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Browsing posts from September, 2012

Rizzo ROY, Sammy Sosa & MNF

By bullpenbrian - September 25, 2012 - 1:35 am 2 comments.

You can make the case for a handful of players to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Anthony Rizzo is one of them, but he’s likely not the winner.

You can’t ignore the positive impact Rizzo’s made in the Cubs’ lineup since his arrival. But his late June callup puts him behind the other front-runners as far as overall numbers are concerned.

I like the Reds’ Todd Frazier to win the award. He’s played four different positions and was clutch filling-in for both an injured Scott Rolen at third base in the season’s first half and then for Joey Votto at first base in the season’s second half.

Frazier has been the glue for Dusty Baker’s lineup, and playing on a division winner certainly helps his cause.

Bryce Harper, Wilin Rosario (COL), Yonder Alonso (SD), Norichika Aoki (MIL) and Jordan Pacheco (COL) also deserve some looks…but in the end, I put my money on Frazier.

HONORING SAMMY: CSN’s Chicago Tribune Live was debating whether the Cubs should honor Sammy Sosa similar to what the organization did for Kerry Wood on Sunday.

We know Sammy took steroids, we know that was part of the game during his era, but does that mean it’s worth celebrating?

Sammy was both a terrific cheat and a terrific player, especially offensively. But, Sosa’s refusal to admit his mistakes during the steroids investigation along with his unceremonious departure from the Cubs doesn’t help his case to be recognized by the organization.

My feeling is the Cubs honored Sosa plenty with the millions upon millions of dollars they paid him while with Chicago. The fact Sosa left the Cubs, and the game, as a disgrace is on him.

I’m not saying a reunion between Sosa and the Cubs should never happen. But this is a two-way street, and right now it’s on Sammy to right the wrongs, not the other way around.

SLEEPLESS IN GREEN BAY: I hope the debacle of an ending to the Monday Night football game in Seattle finally pushes the NFL to strike a deal with its locked out officials.

To have last night’s contest wrongly decided by the replacement refs, during a prime time game, is surely one of the most feared outcomes by the league during this labor dispute.

The replacement officiating has been a disgrace to the league. What more does the NFL need to see after three weeks (not including the pre-season) of botched calls to understand its regular officials are worth paying top dollar?

Don’t blame the scab refs, either. I truly believe these guys are trying to the best of their abilities, although it’s clear they’re largely in over their heads.

Last week I talked about how professional sports leagues should learn from one another. So let this replacement officiating be a lesson for all other pro sports: pay your officials…they’re the best in the business for a reason–and that’s always worth the money.

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Kerry Wood, Walks & Errors

By bullpenbrian - September 24, 2012 - 3:20 am Leave a comment.

Kerry Wood Day

When Kerry Wood tossed his glove into the stands following another poor outing in May it was pretty clear something wasn’t right with the aging Cub.

Wood had lost his pitch control, his velocity was down and I speculated the thought of retirement was eating at him, as well.

At the time I expected Wood to make a lengthy trip to the DL where he could ready himself for one last hurrah late in the season to close out his career with the Cubs.

May 12: The worst case scenario is Wood continues to struggle and the Cubs are forced to issue an ultimatum to ‘retire’ or accept his unconditional release from the club.

It would be a rather sad ending for a much beloved Cub, but the more Wood struggles, the more likely it becomes Kerry finalizes his Cubs career standing with family members behind home plate at Wrigley Field during a small ceremony held in late September.

That small ceremony played out just as expected at Wrigley Field as part of Kerry Wood Appreciation Day on Sunday. The only difference was Wood wasn’t wearing a Cubs uniform.

I never did anticipate Wood’s abrupt retirement coming the way it did in late May…not that many did…but it’s a shame the Cubs couldn’t win Wood’s last game against the White Sox or against the Cardinals on Sunday. Somehow, though, it seems fitting of Kerry’s career with Chicago—close but no cigar.

WALKS WILL HUANT: If there’s one area the Cubs must improve on next season it’s walks. Chicago leads all of baseball with 546 free passes.

By comparison, the Nationals are ranked 15/30 in baseball with 462 walks–84 fewer than the Cubs. Philadelphia, meanwhile, is the best in the majors having issued only 385 base on balls. And even if you take away Chicago’s 35 intentional walks, they’re still in the top 6 in walks allowed.

It’s no surprise starters Ryan Dempster (2.34), Paul Maholm (2.56) and Matt Garza (2.78) still sport the best BB/9 ratio on the team.

In their absence, however, fill-ins Brooks Raley (4.07), Chris Volstad (3.82) and Chris Rusin (3.43) sport the worst BB/9 among Cubs starters.

But it’s the bullpen that’s at the crux of the issue like it was on Sunday. Cubs relievers walked four in only 3.1 innings with Alberto Cabrera walking three of his five batters faced. Not surprisingly, it set up the eventual game-winning runs to score in a 6-3 loss. That just can’t happen.

Jaye Chapman (7.71), Carlos Marmol (7.57), Cabrera (7.45), Lendy Castillo (6.57), Jeff Belvieau (6.19) and Rafael Dolis (5.94) are all above 5.00 BB/9. Anything above 4.50 is ridiculous!

You simply can’t put that many runners on base and expect to be a contender, and especially with an offense ranked 28/30 in runs scored (586).

Closing In: Darwin Barney played his 138th-straight game without committing an error at second base on Sunday. He’s now three-games shy of tying Placido Polanco’s major league record of 141-consecutive games at second base without an error.

That means Barney will have his opportunity to tie the mark at Colorado on Thursday and possibly break the record at Arizona on Friday night (Cubs are off today).

If Barney plays the remainder of the Cubs’ schedule without committing an error he would top-out at 147-straight games. Rather impressive.

Wrigley Field

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Mr. Cubs Race!

By bullpenbrian - September 23, 2012 - 1:00 pm Leave a comment.

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Cubs Walkoffs, Barney & NL MVP

By bullpenbrian - September 22, 2012 - 4:00 am 2 comments.

The Cardinals have 10 walkoff losses this season and four have come courtesy the Cubs–all taking place at Wrigley Field.

Joe Mather delivered the first on April 23, a single in the bottom of the ninth scoring Bryan LaHair. Soriano had the game-winning hit the following night in the bottom of the tenth and Rizzo smashed his memorable walkoff home run on July 29. David DeJesus, of course, had the game-winning hit on Friday, scoring Brett Jackson in the bottom of the tenth.

MR. EVERYTHING: Darwin Barney is showing he’s more than just a Gold Glove second baseman–he’s an all-around winner. Darwin’s dramatic game-tying home run with two-strikes and two-outs yesterday is just the latest example.

This kid’s a terrific teammate, a real gamer with a strong work ethic and a passion for winning. The way he plays is how winning gets done–with effort, awareness and the ability to come through in crucial game situations.

I don’t see any reason the Cubs shouldn’t build around Barney the same way they plan to do with Castro. I sense Barney’s going to win the Gold Glove Award this year and come back an even better all-around player next season.

And I think it’s pretty exciting to imagine an infield of Rizzo, Barney & Castro for years to come. Shoring up those three spots brings the Cubs one step closer to being competitive.

NL MVP TALK: If the Brewers complete its late September charge with a playoff berth, Ryan Braun’s name is certain to come up in National League MVP talk.

If, in fact, Braun wins the award again, having already tested positive for PEDs use last season, then baseball might as well legalize performance enhancers.

With the knowledge Braun knowingly cheated the league, then beat baseball’s steroids testing system on a technicality and escape punishment while taking us all for fools, there’s no reason I’d even consider him for the award.

Sorry, I’m just not buying it. And if the baseball writers award this phony the MVP Award a second time it only means one thing–the writers don’t care about protecting the honor of the game as much as they say they do. So why even bother testing?

McCUTCHEN & POSEY: Andrew McCutchen has been a season-long favorite to win the NL MVP, and he still could theoretically. But it’s going to be awfully difficult to overlook his team’s demise from division leaders at the All Star break, to wild card contenders, to a sub .500 record to finish the season.

The Pirates are 1-12 over its last 13-games falling two-games below .500 (74-76). They’re realistically out of the playoff race and headed towards a 20th consecutive losing season.

That means if the season ended today my vote goes to Buster Posey. He’s been sensational in the season’s second half (.389, 13 HR, 53 RBI & 1.114 OPS) and has single-handedly carried the Giants since the departure of Melky Cabrera to his 50-game suspension for steroid use.

At that time the Giants were tied with the Dodgers atop the NL West. Now they lead Los Angeles by 10.0 games and have the third best record in baseball (88-63). Who thought that was possible with Cabrera out of the lineup?

WHAT’S BREWING: Thanks to the Cubs win against St. Louis on Friday afternoon, and an equally dramatic comeback for Milwaukee at Washington last night, the Brewers find themselves just 1.5 games behind the Cards for the final wild card spot.

The Brewers will certainly need at least one more win in its next three-games against a tough Nationals team to stay in the running. And if a four-game series against Washington wasn’t tough enough, Milwaukee immediately heads to Cincinnati for a three-game series.

But despite a tough schedule, the Brewers have been scorching hot winning 24 of its last 30-games. They do, however, hold one advantage compared to St. Louis—the Brewers have 12 remaining games this season vs. the Cardinals’ 11 remaining contests.

Either way, I’d just love to see the Cubs take one more from the Cardinals to send Milwaukee and St. Louis on a dead sprint to the wild card finish! May the best team win.

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BJax, LaHair & Cards Notes

By bullpenbrian - September 21, 2012 - 9:00 am Leave a comment.

The Cubs (58-92) have 12-games remaining this season beginning with a three-game home series against the Cardinals this afternoon at 1:20pm.

Chicago needs five more wins to avoid a 100-loss season, and just one more victory to avoid matching the franchise-worst mark of 103-losses (surely that will happen, yes?)

K ZONE: Brett Jackson struck out in his only at-bat yesterday giving him 54-punchouts on the season. Through 37-games he’s struck out at least once in all but five-games. His strikeout rate through 126 plate appearances is a whopping 43-percent. Not good.

It’s also been a difficult stretch for BJax lately. He’ managed just two hits in his last 33 at-bats…walking 5 times with 17 Ks. Slash line: .063/.189/.094.

TALE OF TWO SEASONS: Bryan LaHair before the All Star break: 14 HR, 30 RBI, .286/.364/.519…74-games. After the All Star break: 1 HR, 5 RBI, .188/.264/.271…45-games.

GOLD GLOVE: Darwin Barney’s errorless streak at second base has reached 135-consecutive games. Pretty awesome. But, any idea who holds the record for most consecutive games without an error at the catcher’s position?

It’s St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, a four-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner who set the major league record of 252-consecutive games at catcher without committing a single miscue. Wow.

THE INDESTRUCTABLE MAN: The last time Chris Carpenter toed the rubber was last fall in Game 7 of the World Series. He pitched six innings and earned the win against the Rangers.

This afternoon Carpenter makes his season debut at Wrigley Field after missing the first 150-games of the season with a sore shoulder.

It seems his National League leading 34-starts and 237.1 innings pitched, in addition to the playoffs, finally took its toll on Carpenter who sat out the the entire first half of the season before succumbing to neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery (sore right shoulder) on July 19.

If healthy, however, the Cards add a real difference-maker to its rotation to make another October run. And there’s probably not a better place for Carpenter to make his comeback other than Wrigley Field where his 11-wins since 2004 are the most against the Cubbies.

Similar to the Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired after 20-seasons in the NHL, I’ll be thrilled when Carpenter, 37, finally walks away, too. Those are two guys the Blackhawks and Cubs can do without. With all due respect, good riddance.

FIRST TIME FIVE: For the first time in Cardinals’ history the club has five players with 20 or more home runs: Beltran (29), Holliday (27), Craig (22), Molina (20), Freese (20). The 2008 season was the last time St. Louis had four players turn the trick: Pujols (37), Ludwick (37), Glaus (27), Ankiel (25).

The Cubs have one player with 20-plus HR: Alfonso Soriano (30)…next closest is Bryan LaHair (15), Rizzo (14) and Castro (13).

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Cubs Aiming To Become Reds

By bullpenbrian - September 20, 2012 - 6:20 pm Leave a comment.

Thank goodness the Cubs don’t face the Reds again this season. I’ve had my fill of Baker’s boys thumping the Cubbies, which I’m sure has tasted real sweet for the former Chicago bench boss.

POLAR OPPOSITES: We’re talking about two teams that couldn’t be more opposite. Cincinnati (90-59) is fighting for the best record in the National League after clinching a playoff spot with its 5-3 victory vs. Chicago this afternoon–completing a three-game sweep of the series. The Cubs, meanwhile, are fighting to avoid 100-losses (58-91).

The Reds are playing like a team poised to make a World series run, and they have all the parts to do it. Its starting rotation is both strong and reliable. They have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The lineup is solid top-to-bottom with good bench depth. They field the ball well…blah, blah, blah.

The Cubs are, well, being the Cubs and looking at a high draft pick and any help they can find…in all areas. For all intents and purposes, the Reds are exactly what the Cubs want to become, and where we hope the rebuild leads to–a World Series contender.

When that finally happens it will be a nice change of pace to the season series vs. Cincinnati, which has leaned heavily in the Reds’ favor over the past three seasons. Cincinnati is (33-15) against the Cubs, including a (17-8) mark at Wrigley Field since 2010.

In 2012 the Reds are (10-4) against Chicago and (7-2) at Wrigley. The Cardinals may still be the arch rival, but St. Louis hasn’t had nearly the success the Reds have had against the Cubs in recent memory. Ugh, painful.

IN DUSTY REDS TRUSTY: As much as Cubs fans don’t want to admit it, the Reds also have one heckuva manager in Dusty Baker, who will become just the third skipper in Reds history to lead the team to the postseason more than once joining Bill McKechnie, Sparky Anderson & Davey Johnson (yes, the same Davey Johnson skippering the Nationals (90-58)).

If Baker’s Reds do, in fact, take home the best overall record in the NL there’s a good chance Dusty wins his third Manager of the Year Award. His next victory, by the way, ties him with Pete Rose for the sixth most wins as a Reds manager in franchise history.

NOW ST. LOUIS: Next up for the Cubs are the Cardinals, winners of four-straight and leading the wild card by 2.5 games over the Dodgers and 3.0 over the pesky Brewers (at the time of this post).

It’s the last series of the season for the Cubs to really play a spoiler role in the National League. Colorado, Arizona and Houston are the final series of 2012 with basically zero playoff implications on the line.

If the Cubs don’t take two of three from the Cardinals this weekend, it probably spells the end of Milwaukee’s late charge as they head to Washington for a four-game series against the Nats.

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Sori’s New Company, Barney’s Streaks, Marmol & Valbuena

By bullpenbrian - September 20, 2012 - 3:00 am Leave a comment.

Yesterday I gushed over Alfonso Soriano’s numbers this season. He homered again last night, a two-run blast onto Waveland Ave in the sixth, giving him 30 HR & 103 RBI for the year.

He now joins an elite group of Cubs players age 36 or older to hit 30-plus HR and drive in 100 or more RBI:

  • Hank Sauer
  • Andre Dawson
  • Fred McGriff
  • Moises Alou

GOLD GLOVE: Last night Darwin Barney struck out swinging in the bottom of the ninth snapping his string of 55-plate appearances without a strikeout–which was the longest in the majors.

His 0-for-5 performance also ends his career-high and team season-high 13-game hitting streak this year.

However, Barney’s National League record of consecutive games without committing a fielding error remains intact at 134-straight contests. With 12-games remaining this season Darwin still has an opportunity to break Placido Polanco’s major league record of 141-straight games without an error at second base.

MARMOL TIME: Would you believe Carlos Marmol has successfully converted his last 19 save opportunities? That’s a career-high for Marmol, whose previous mark of consecutive saves was 18-straight from August, 2010- April, 2011.

Marmol’s last blown save came on May 2, making him one of only two closers in the majors to be perfect in save chances since the second month of the season–the Padres’ Huston Street is the other (18/18).

DOWN LOOKING: I want to believe in Brett Jackson, but his glaring strikeout rate and inexperience was on full display last night when he struck out looking with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and the game tied 5-5.

That simply can’t happen, especially on a pitch up in the zone and right over the inner half of the plate.

Bob Brenly wasn’t pleased with Jackson’s at-bat either saying “A batter has to be hungry to hit in those situations.” A lesson learned I hope.

WAKING UP LUIS: Is Josh Vitters’ lack of production making Luis Valbuena a little too comfortable at third?

It was only a month ago Valbuena was guilty of not running hard out of the box on a hit he presumably thought would leave the yard in Milwaukee. Valbuena was inexcusable picked-off second base while fiddling with his batting gloves last night.

Is Sveum too desperate to avoid a 100-loss season that he won’t sit Valbuena to send a message. What’s it going to take to keep Valbuena’s head in the game?

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What To Do With Alfonso Soriano?

By bullpenbrian - September 19, 2012 - 4:30 am 5 comments.

Remember when Alfonso Soriano went homerless during his first 30-games this season? Or how he painfully hobbled around the outfield for five weeks after fouling a pitch off his knee in mid-May?

Now look at him. Since hitting his first long ball on May 15 he’s third in the majors in home runs (29) and one of only two players in the National League with at least 29 HR & 100-plus RBI, Ryan Braun being the other.

Soriano’s 101 RBI are his most with the Cubs in his six-seasons played on the North Side. It’s also good for the eighth most RBI in all of baseball this year, and third most in the NL behind Braun & Chase Headley (each have 104, which is Soriano’s career-high).

Alfonso is also in the NL’s Top 5 in HR, of which half (15) have come with men on base. Additionally, he’s in the Top 25 in doubles (30) and Top 30 in OPS (.811).

His 15 game-winning RBI, 28 go-ahead RBI and 38 two-out RBI leads the Cubs–there’s not even a close second. And let’s not forget his defense this season is worthy of Gold Glove consideration, as well.

So here’s the rub. What should the Cubs do with Soriano this offseason? Do the Cubs eat a good portion of his remaining 2-yr, $18M dollar salary and trade him for prospects…or do you retain his services for at least another season with the expectation he’ll put up similar numbers in 2013?

Keeping Soriano isn’t all bad for the sake of putting a better product on the field next year, which the Cubs need to do. But dealing him obviously opens up roster space in the outfield to evaluate younger players who may, or may not, be part of the long-term rebuilding plans.

The real trouble with parting from Soriano is how on earth do the Cubs replace his production? Chances are, they don’t.

So it’s a tricky spot for Team Theo weighing the pro’s of dealing Soriano to further the rebuilding movement vs. the con’s of weakening the product on the field in 2013.

My gut feeling is Epstein and Hoyer trade Soriano. What yours?

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My First Pitch At Wrigley Field

By bullpenbrian - September 18, 2012 - 7:30 am 9 comments.

Wrigley Field Bullpen Brian

I can’t put into words how excited I was to hear David Kaplan announce “Bullpen Brian, you’re throwing out the first pitch!”

Pretty incredible, right?

I’ve always wanted to throw out the game’s first pitch at Wrigley Field. I mean, what good Cubs fan wouldn’t want the opportunity to toe the rubber and start the festivities?

And that’s exactly what the Cubs were raffling off, among other prizes, as part of its second Social Media gathering prior to Monday night’s game between the Cubs and Pirates.

Now, did I ever think I’d win anything in the raffle, let alone the grand prize of throwing out the game’s first pitch? Not a chance. Not in my lifetime. Not in a million years.

But on this night I did win, and I could hardly believe it. Holy crap…you’re throwing out the game’s first pitch!

Wrigley Field

It turns out I had plenty of time for the excitement to build, and build some more–nearly four hours more while waiting for the stormy weather to clear.

And by the time the game should’ve been long over, I finally got my chance. It was just past 10:20pm when Cubs reliever Jaye Chapman greeted me in the on-deck circle. He would catch my pitch.

One thing I knew for certain, long before this night, was that if I ever did get the chance to throw out a first pitch I was going to do it from the pitching rubber…not from in front of the mound, not halfway up the bump…but from the rubber.

So what it’s like standing on Wrigley Field’s mound for the first time? Pretty surreal. Everything appears so much bigger and more spread out: the bases, the foul poles, the stands.

I could see into the press box, Len & Bob and Pat & Keith. And I could see Chapman squatting behind home plate 60-feet, 6-inches away, or was he 160-feet away? That’s what it seemed like anyway.

I couldn’t remember the last time I threw an overhand pitch. Maybe seven or eight years ago. Damn, it’s been that long? Okay, let’s just go with old reliable–good ‘ol No.1, low and away!

The pitched looked pretty good from my vantage point. It was, however, a little out of the strike zone, but probably still gets a decent right-handed hitter to chase. Pitch Trax most likely ruled it a ball outside.

Alright, let’s be honest. I bounced it in the dirt. Not badly, but it wasn’t exactly a frozen rope on the edge of the black. It wasn’t a pitch Chapman couldn’t handle, either. He made an easy scoop and that was that. I had thrown out my first pitch!

Wrigley Field

It’s an old cliché, but it’s true one never knows what they might see when venturing out to the ballgame. I expected nothing more on this evening other than to watch my Cubs play another game in its 162-game schedule. Of course I’d earn the badge of honor for waiting nearly four-hours for baseball to be played, but this was simply just another night spent at my favorite place in the world.

That is until the raffle, when suddenly this night became so much more. In an instant it became a life-long memory, an experience I’ll never forget–that I can promise you. I’ll remember this pitch as clear as day years from now. And even if the opportunity never presents itself again for me to stand on Wrigley’s mound and deliver a pitch, so be it. It doesn’t need to, I had this night and the satisfaction is indescribable.

Social Media Night2 didn’t disappoint. Yes, the weather was wicked, but I was able to ease the burden of waiting in anticipation by mingling with old friends and meeting new ones, something I should do more often.

Many thanks to the Cubs. Both Social Media events have been thoroughly enjoyable despite a brutal Cubs season on the field. Very soon this season will be over and I’ll look back on this night as one of my personal highlights of the season…the first pitch being the pinnacle.

Thanks to @UTChicago and @CubsStories for sticking out the rain delay when most folks, understandable, decided to call it a night and go home.

Thanks to everyone on Twitter who offered up Tweets of encouragement before my first pitch. It’s been a long night, but I look forward to responding to each of you very soon. And I hope someday you win the thrill of a lifetime like I did and get to throw out a first pitch.

In the words of Sweet Lou Piniella, “what more can I say?”

Wrigley Field

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Talking Cubs Baseball With WGN Radio’s Jordan Bernfield

By bullpenbrian - September 17, 2012 - 6:30 am Leave a comment.

BernfieldWGN

You may not recognize his face, but you’ll recognize his voice as a host of Cubs Central Postgame on WGN Radio. Jordan Bernfield is also a writer & podcaster for miCubs.com in addition to other broadcasting ventures.

I recently caught up with Jordan to talk about the on goings of the Cubs’ 2012 season, including everything from Kerry Wood’s early season retirement to how long before we’ll see a winner on the North Side.

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