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Browsing posts from August, 2012

Mr. Cubs Race!

By bullpenbrian - August 26, 2012 - 9:00 am Leave a comment.

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#Cubs Tweet Tweet!

By bullpenbrian - August 25, 2012 - 7:01 pm Leave a comment.

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Cubs Rebuild | Phase 2

By bullpenbrian - August 25, 2012 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

We know there’s a ton of work left to be done with the Cubs rebuild, and we know it all can’t be accomplished in one offseason.

The first phase of the rebuild draws to a close in roughly one month, which has included everything from Team Theo reshaping the club through player trades, waiver-wire moves and a revamping of the front office.

The main goal for next season, of course, is beginning Phase 2 of the process, which starts, first and foremost, with fielding a more competitive team–and by competitive I mean a team void of 90 or more losses.

The Cubs have four areas of critical need entering the offseason: 1.) A quality fourth starter. 2.) Quality bullpen arms. 3.) A third baseman 4.) A center fielder.

THE FOURTH STARTER

I’m assuming Matt Garza will remain a Cub through the offseason and return as the staff Ace. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood follow Garza with a combination of Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin, among others, as the fifth starters.

Justin Germano would suffice, but is far from a lock, and notice I didn’t mention the return of winless Chris Volstad. Lord help us if that happens.

Speculation is the Cubs will target a mid-range starter the likes of a Paul Maholm–a younger, more affordable veteran with a big league track record. If the Cubs can find, and sign, a guy like a Maholm, that’s actually not a terrible rotation.

THE BULLPEN

All indications are Carlos Marmol will be back as the team’s closer. James Russell is a lock, and I’d count on Manny Corpas being invited back as well. Shawn Camp would also be ideal, but he’s likely to field better offers from more competitive clubs this winter.

Aside from these three, however, that’s a sizable hole to fill in the bullpen, one I speculate will be filled with more project-players and retreads (ie: Corpas & Camp) to go along with the unknowns of Jeff Beliveau, Lendy Castillo, Rafael Dolis, Michael Bowden, Alex Hinshaw, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker, Arodys Vizcaino, Alberta Cabrera and Casey Coleman. (SMH).

CENTER FIELD & THIRD BASE

The more we watch Brett Jackson and Josh Vitter the more clear it becomes both are still green in their development. Unless something clicks for either in the final 38-games, I wouldn’t be surprised if both started 2013 back in Iowa.

Outfielders are always easy to come by in the offseason, and with Wrigley playing as such a small center field the right option shouldn’t be hard to find–at least defensively. Finding a productive bat is the difficulty.

Third base is more precarious. If we assume Vitters isn’t ready for the start of next season, incumbent Ian Stewart may still remain one option. Guys like Super Joe Mather and Luis Valbuena are nice fill-in players, but neither should be counted on as full-time starters. And it’s worth noting the free agent crop at third base is thin at best.

MY GOODNESS

If you’re like me you probably just let-go a huge sigh, leaned back in your chair and put your hands behind your head. But, I guess we should at least be thankful the first phase is nearly out of the way.

There’s still plenty of pain and suffering to endure, and that’s not including the final month of the regular season. Here’s to looking forward to Phase 3.

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Home Games To Save Cubs From Single-Season 103-Loss Record

By bullpenbrian - August 24, 2012 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

The Cubs franchise record for most losses in a single-season is (103); first set in 1962 and later matched in 1966.

This year’s team is (47-76) with 39-games remaining. The Cubs need 13 more victories to avoid tying the dubious record.

Whether or not that happens, I don’t know. My gut feeling is the Cubs will avoid it, even if only by the slimmest of margins. And it’s really simple as to why.

Beginning today, Chicago plays 20 of its next 30-games at the Friendly Confines where, somewhat surprisingly, they’re two-games above .500 (30-28).

If the Cubs split those next 20-games at home, they should also be able to manage at least three wins out of its 16 remaining road contests–three of which are against Houston.

But regardless of exactly how the remaining games play out, the Cubs are still on course to have one of its worst seasons in franchise history. Oh, joy.

Year

Losses

Percentage

1966

103

.364

1962

103

.364

1980

98

.395

2000

97

.401

2006

96

.407

1974

96

.407

2002

95

.414

1999

95

.414

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Cubs Off Day | Pirates Mayday?

By bullpenbrian - August 23, 2012 - 2:15 am Leave a comment.

Considering the Cubs were pummeled in Milwaukee this week, I decided to use the team’s off day as a chance to talk about something other than rookie pitchers, strikeouts looking and general bad baseball, which pretty much eliminates a Cubs article.

Instead, today’s post is about a more compelling story in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates, a club I’ve kept my eye on since they became a trendy pick this spring as a possible surprise playoff contender in the National League.

The origins of this hype began last season when Pittsburgh held the division lead through the first 100-games of the season. A second half decline of legendary proportions, however, didn’t faze all the baseball pundits over the winter, despite Pittsburgh finishing the 2011 campaign with a 90-loss record.

THE 2012 PITTSBURGH PIRATES

When the Pirates took two of three games at St. Louis over the weekend I began wondering if the other shoe to Pittsburgh’s magical season would ever drop?

I had been anticipating the Pirates decline even since they were leading the NL Central at the All Star break (48-37). Pittsburgh simply lacked the fire-power needed in its lineup to fend-off its much deeper divisional foes in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

But less than two weeks after the mid-summer break the Pirates were still in position to become buyers before the non-waiver trade deadline–something not seen in western Pennsylvania in two decades.

With the right trades, perhaps, Pittsburgh could keep its heart-warming story of reaching the postseason alive through September.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE THE TRADE DEADLINE?

On July 25 Pittsburgh trailed first place Cincinnati by only 2.5 games. But on the same day the club also completed a blockbuster trade for starter Wandy Rodriguez, which culminated with a four-game winning streak (beginning with the Cubs, no less).

Six days later at the July 31 trade deadline the Pirates dealt for Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez to bolster its lineup. The first place Reds, with a 3.0 games lead, remained well within striking distance. But did the Pirates get enough in its trade returns to hold steady?

The answer appears to be a resounding ‘no’. Rodriguez has been a flat bust going (1-3, 5.06) while Snider and Sanchez have combined for just one HR & six RBI in 104 at-bats.

The Pirates, not surprisingly, have played sub-.500 baseball since the trade deadline (8-13) while its second half record also dipped below .500 (19-20) after suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Padres this week.

Meanwhile, the Reds (76-49) have risen to the second best record in baseball while increasing its division cushion over Pittsburgh to 8.5 games, not to mention, the surging Cardinals jumped the Buccos in the standings this week.

WHAT ABOUT THE WILD CARD?

Atlanta (71-53) and St. Louis (67-56) currently hold the two wild card spots. The Dodgers and Pirates share identical (67-57) records and sit a half game back of the Cardinals.

If the wild and dramatic finish to the 2011 regular season taught us anything, it’s that much can change over the final 40-games.

In Pittsburgh’s case, however, I’m feeling more certain they’ll soon be out of the postseason race altogether and less certain they’ll maintain a season record above .500, a mark the club has failed to accomplish in the last 19 seasons.

If the other shoe to the Pirates season hasn’t hit the floor already, it’s definitely falling fast. Sound familiar, Cubs fans?

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Former Cub Leading MLB In Extra Base Hits

By bullpenbrian - August 22, 2012 - 5:30 am 2 comments.

Aramis Ramirez currently leads all of baseball in extra base hits (59) and doubles (40). He’s on pace for 54 two-baggers this season, which would surpass the Brewers franchise record of 53 doubles set by Lyle Overbay in 2004.

Surprised?

Many Cubs fans thought the Brewers were insane for signing the 34-year-old Ramirez to a 3yr-$36M deal this offseason. How quickly they forget he won the Silver Slugger Award last season.

MORE HARWARE FOR ARAMIS?

Aramis hasn’t skipped a beat since joining Milwaukee. Following his typical slow start at the plate he’s hit .322 over his last 74 games raising his batting average from .218 to .288 to go along with 17 HR & 72 RBI all totaled.

At this rate he’ll challenge David Wright (.320, 16 HR, 75 RBI) during the next six weeks to defend his Silver Slugger title. And that’s not all.

Ramirez also has the highest fielding percentage (.973) and fewest number of errors (6) of any National League third baseman. A Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award in the same season?

Who would’ve thunk it?

I’m not suggesting the Cubs were fools for not re-signing Ramirez. His nine seasons spent on the North Side were highly productive, if not under-valued, but his time was up.

Aramis had clearly soured professionally under Mike Quade, and at the tail end of his career he didn’t appear interested, or willing, to invest in the Cubs lengthy rebuilding process. Who could blame him?

MR. CLUTCH

I gave Ramirez the nickname ‘Mr. Clutch’ for obvious reasons; he delivered more big-hits than any other Cub I can remember since his first season with Chicago in 2003.

A-Ram’s long been one of my favorite players, and always one of my favorite Cubs. He was also arguably the best acquisition Jim Hendry ever made as the Cubs GM, and unquestionably, the MVP of both the Cubs last two division winning teams in 2007-08.

But even so, Ramirez spent the better part of his Cubs tenure quietly going about his business in the shadow of Sammy Sosa and Carlos Zambrano, among others. Few, if any, however, actually outperformed him.

It seems a new deal and a new team hasn’t changed a thing about Ramirez. He continues to tear up National League pitching, and quite honestly, there’s no reason any Cubs fans should be surprised.

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Why Is Chris Volstad Still Pitching For The Cubs?

By bullpenbrian - August 21, 2012 - 2:30 am 4 comments.

I can’t believe the Cubs don’t have a better option in the rotation than Chris Volstad (0-9, 6.88).

He’s winless in 14 starts with Chicago and hasn’t won a single game over his last 24 outings dating back to his days with the Marlins.

It’s even tougher to believe Volstad actually won 12-games with the Fish just two seasons ago. Of course, when he faltered badly in 2011 going (5-13, 4.89) he became expendable on South Beach, and now we know why.

Volstad struggles with command, struggles to stick to the game-plan, struggles to pitch out of trouble and struggles with confidence. Did I miss anything?

STOP BLAMING THEO FOR VOLSTAD

It’s easy to be critical of Theo Epstein for dealing Carlos Zambrano for a 6’8″ has-been. But it’s important to remember this trade wasn’t about what the Cubs were getting in return.

This deal was strictly about dealing Big Z; a malcontent who had become a destructive clubhouse cancer on the North Side.

Tom Ricketts was essentially paying Zambrano to go away when Epstein dealt him to Miami in January. The fact a player was coming in return was simply icing on the cake, and although Volstad was coming off a down year, six of his last seven starts were quality outings with Florida.

Let’s not pretend there were better deals on the table for Zambrano, either. In fact, it was the only deal available, and the Cubs finally accomplished what they should’ve done years ago–ridding the organization of El Toro.

PUTTING THE BIG Z TRADE IN PERSPECTIVE

As poorly as Volstad has pitched since joining the Cubs, it’s nowhere near the frustrations that would’ve boiled over with Zambrano’s selfishness on a team treading towards a franchise-worst record. Lord only knows what pyrotechnics would have shot out of Big Z during the Cubs 12-game losing streak in May.

The idea Zambrano would’ve helped the Cubs this season is entirely fool’s gold. Sure, he’s pitched better than Volstad going (7-9, 4.32), but even so it wasn’t enough from keeping his close friend Ozzie GuiIlen from demoting Carlos to the bullpen in the season’s second half.

Volstad, however, doesn’t earn a free pass for simply being a throw-in piece to the trade. The Cubs, believe it or not, are still a major league team in the business of winning. Volstad, to this point, has been counterproductive to those efforts.

WHY IS VOLSTAD STILL PITCHING FOR THE CUBS?

How on earth the Cubs justify Volstad’s roster spot is beyond me. My best guess, however, is with the season a wash and hardly any reserves left in the minor leagues, the Cubs are giving Volstad the longest possible opportunity to show improvement.

It’s been long enough in my opinion, and I’m certain in the minds of many other Cubs fans, as well.

The Cubs currently have two minor league starters who could fit the bill over the final six weeks pitching at least as effective as Volstad, and I’d venture to say even better.

Rodrigo Lopez is (2-5, 5.28) with Triple-A Iowa. He started 16-games for the Cubs last season and wasn’t all that bad going (6-6, 4.42). He’s the furthest thing from being part of the Cubs rebuilding plan, but so too is Volstad.

Casey Coleman (2-4, 4.34) hasn’t exactly been tearing it up at Iowa, either. But he has seen several previous stints in the big leagues as both a starter and reliever, including a spot-start on July 31 against Pittsburgh–4.2, 4-ER, 7-H, 4-BB, 5-K. Volstad-esque, but hardly any worse.

So why not take a chance with one of these two guys? Who knows, maybe the Cubs actually win enough games behind one of them to help avoid a dreadful 100-loss season? Sticking with Volstad, meanwhile, only guarantees the Cubs will reach triple digit losses.

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Evaluating Cubs New Deal With Starlin Castro

By bullpenbrian - August 20, 2012 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

I’ve always been in favor of the Cubs building around Starlin Castro, which is why I’m thrilled the team is close to locking him up with a long-term contract extension: 7-yr, $60M.

I’m not blind to Castro’s faults. His mental gaffes are extremely concerning. His fielding needs to improve, as does his plate discipline. Both have been better this season, but there’s significant progress left to be achieved in both areas.

However, for a kid who’s sparkled since his major league debut, Starlin is about as close to a sure-thing as you’ll find on a Cubs roster fit for a 100-loss season. And that’s exactly what the Cubs need to build around–not trade away–in the coming years.

WHO ELSE CAN THE CUBS COUNT ON?

While Anthony Rizzo appears poised to reach the level of success Castro has, we’ve yet to see him play a full major league season. Bryan LaHair, unfortunately, fizzled out in late May. Darwin Barney appears to be a very good, but not great player at second base. Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo…who knows how these guys pan out?

Meanwhile, in a few short weeks Castro will have nearly three full seasons under his belt at age 22. That alone speaks to his natural talent.

He’s already made two All Star appearances, led the league in hits in 2011 (207) and shows all the signs of becoming a super-star player.

Castro, for better or worse, is the face of the Cubs franchise. Or perhaps better said, the face of the Cubs rebuild. Why wouldn’t you lock Castro up long-term?

A SMART DEAL FOR BOTH PARTIES

The reported deal buys out Castro’s four arbitration years and his three free agents years. If all goes as planned there’s even an option year for the 2020 season for $16M.

Additionally, Team Theo’s ‘no-trade’ policy is just one of several important factors in Starlin’s new deal.

  • 1.) It relieves any unnecessary pressure off Castro to perform under looming contract negotiations.
  • 2.) Paying Starlin now is likely to save the Cubs money in the long run, especially if Starlin exceeds his potential.
  • 3.) If Castro doesn’t achieve his potential, or sours on the Cubs front office, they’ll be in a strong position to trade Castro right as he’s coming into his prime years.

A deal beneficial for both sides is always the best kind. And with so little to be sure of in the coming seasons on the North Side, it’s the smart move for Team Theo and Starlin Castro.

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Mr. Cubs Race!

By bullpenbrian - August 19, 2012 - 10:00 pm Leave a comment.

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Cubs Shouldn’t Miss Out On Air & Water Show

By bullpenbrian - August 19, 2012 - 3:00 am Leave a comment.

One date I immediately search when checking the Cubs upcoming season schedule is the third weekend in August. Sounds weird, I know, but that’s the weekend of Chicago’s annual Air & Water Show. Pair it with a weekend game at Wrigley Field and you double the fun.

I put the excitement right on par with that of a Bears, Bulls or Blackhawks playoff game. It’s thrilling. It’s memorable. It’s worth the price of admission, albeit weather permitting, of course.

Even though the fighter jets don’t buzz the ‘ol ballpark quiet like they use to (post 9-11), it’s still a tremendous vantage point to absorb the action in the air, and on the field, all at the same time.

In fact, for my money this is one of Chicago’s premier sporting events. Even if the Cubs are playing out of town you can always grab White Sox tickets and catch a slice of the air show from The Cell.

MLB, THROW US A BONE. TWO TEAMS, NEITHER PLAYING AT HOME?

Strangely, neither the Cubs or White Sox are playing at home this weekend. Granted, Wrigley Field did host the Under Armour All-American Game on Saturday. But with all due respect, that’s not exactly the same atmosphere.

A big league air show like Chicago’s should get a big league game, like the Cubs. Well, maybe not this year. But you get what I’m saying.

With two teams in Chicago MLB typically likes to schedule one team at home while the other is away. Even despite the air show, it makes little sense that neither team was in town this weekend.

WEATHER IS EVERYTHING

Much like baseball, the Air & Water Show is heavily weather dependent, and unfortunately, mother nature hasn’t been so cooperative the past several years.

With today being a beautiful and sunny 72-degrees, I jumped at the chance to take in the Blue Angels at North Avenue beach! I posted some video and pictures below.

CUBS PLAYING AT HOME DURING 2013 AIR & WATER SHOW?

The Cubs 2013 schedule isn’t due out for another few weeks. But keep it in mind to check out the third weekend in August. If MLB’s scheduling stays consistent with what’s been an every-other-year format of home and away series during the Air & Water Show, the Cubs will play a home series in 2013.

Here’s a bulleted recap of the past several seasons with the Cubs during the Air & Water Show.

  • 2007 – The trifecta: Cubs vs. Cardinals, at Wrigley, during the Air Show! Damp, gloomy weather delays Saturday’s game, and part of the air show. The Cubs, however, eventually win 5-3 behind starter Sean Marshall. Ryan Dempster earns the save. Sunday is a complete washout. No baseball, no air show.
  • 2008 – Cubs are on the road at Florida. Lou’s boys take 2-of-3 and improve to (76-48) with a 5.5 games lead in the NL Central. Back in Chicago the Air & Water Show is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary. The event is extended to three days beginning on Friday. Bill Murray and Gary Sinise parachute with the Army’s Golden Knights. It’s gorgeous weather all weekend in Chicago.
  • 2009 – The Cubs are at home vs. Pittsburgh. Former Pirate, Tom Gorzelanny leads Chicago to a 2-1 victory. Kevin Gregg nails down the save. The weather stinks. Both events are rained out on Sunday.
  • 2010 – Cubs vs. Cards, but this time it’s played in St. Louis. Chicago surprisingly wins both games. Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Vince Vaughn and his mother headline the Air & Water Show by parachuting down to North Avenue beach with the Golden Knights. Outstanding weather with the Cubs out of town. Go figure.
  • 2011 – The trifecta returns. Cubs vs. Cards, at Wrigley, during the Air & Water Show! Cubs win one, lose one. Wouldn’t you know, the weather flares up delaying the Air Show into a ‘condensed’ performance.
  • 2012 – Cubs are playing at Cincinnati this weekend. It’s a four-games series with a split double-header on Saturday. The first place Reds, sporting the best record in baseball since the All Star break, take 3-of-4 from the Cubs. Back in Chicago the Air & Water Show is a smash hit. Perfect weather on the lake front brings droves of spectators to the beach. The Blue Angels rock the house past the scheduled 3pm finale. Awesome!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ7g6h15ius]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcUe3nwOsgU]

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