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Browsing posts from September, 2012

Dale Sveum Still The Man

By bullpenbrian - September 9, 2012 - 10:15 am Leave a comment.

Dale Sveum faced a defining moment with the Cubs after the brutal, and embarrassing, four-game sweep at the hands of the Nationals this week.

A continuation of the poor play we saw in DC risked sending the team into an all-out tailspin, one not only setting the course for the Cubs to set a dubious new franchise single-season loss record (103), but also undermining Sveum’s leadership in the clubhouse.

Sveum, however, has met the task with full-force guiding his club to back-to-back road wins against a playoff contender and positioning the Cubs for an impressive three-game sweep against the Pirates this afternoon.

It’s a credit to Sveum and his coaching staff because, if there is such a thing as a ‘big win’ for a team playing 30-games under .500, this series is it.

The Cubs may still slip to 100 or more losses before all’s said and done, but at least it appears it won’t come at the cost of the clubhouse having lost faith in the manager. And that’s a big deal for the man expected to lead this rebuild for years to come.

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Mr. Cubs Race!

By bullpenbrian - September 9, 2012 - 8:55 am Leave a comment.

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#Cubs Tweet Tweet!

By bullpenbrian - September 8, 2012 - 6:10 pm Leave a comment.

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Projecting Cubs 2015 Lineup

By bullpenbrian - September 8, 2012 - 3:10 am 4 comments.

JP

This is a guest post by devoted Cubs fan JP Hochbaum. Judging by the grandeur of his handlebar mustache, we should all pay close attention.

As the first year of the Epstein era draws to a close it’s time to evaluate the organization from top to bottom. 

I won’t go that in-depth in this post, leaving the pitching prospects for a later post, but I have projected out what the current crop of minor league products could produce as far as the Cubs’ everyday lineup by 2015, focusing on the position players at hand. 

This assumes, however, there won’t be any trades, which obviously is a long shot, but I am forced to work with what we have and not what we will have.

So around the diamond we go…

FIRST BASE

In less than a full season Anthony Rizzo has already show strong plate discipline and the ability to be a yearly .300 hitter, 30 HR’s and 100 RBI machine, plus an above average fielder–always a plus. Cleary, a lock for the foreseeable future.

SECOND BASE

I doubt Darwin Barney is a Cub come 2015, and I say that because of Junior Lake, who I believe is likely to replace Barney in the next year or two. 

While Lake’s not the fielder Barney has become, he shows more upside offensively. He is, however, currently playing SS in the minors, but it makes sense to move him to second base with Castro and Baez appearing better prospects at the position. Lake’s arm also shows the potential to be moved to a corner outfield spot.

THIRD AND SHORT

There’s a logjam of prospects at both positions. 

Castro, for the time being, remains the man at short with Javier Baez serving as the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect behind him. Not a bad problem to have at one of the most important defensive positions.

However, I see Baez or Castro being moved to third base, barring one of them being traded, and Josh Vitters serving as potential trade bait.

Vitters could eventually become a decent hitter and a serviceable fielder once he adjusts better to the major league game. But there’s also an outside chance his below-average fielding forces a position change to the outfield, which we can only hope raises his appeal on the trade market.

CATCHER

The Cubs are lacking in the catching department behind Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. It’s an area of need the Cubs likely improve upon through the amateur draft or minor trades.

CENTER FIELD

Brett Jackson or Matt Szczur could be the answer. Jackson reminds me of a faster version of Jim Edmonds in the field, and a similar version to Edmonds at the dish–league average hitter, above average power and a good on-base percentage.  

Matt Szczur also shows solid speed and a knack for getting on base. His walk and strikeout ratio is ideal for a leadoff hitter, a spot the Cubs have long been in need of filling.

So with the power coming up at other positions, I prefer the Cubs develop Jackson as trade material for pitching prospects and open the door for Szczur to play centerfield.

CORNER OUT FIELD

Albert Almora and Jorge Soler appear on the fast track to being called-up to the big club in 2014, or sooner, if they develop as quickly as planned. 

Both guys show good bat speed and the potential to develop big league power. Soler has quickly been dubbed “Soler Power” in just the few short months he’s been in the Cubs’ system.

Soler is projected to exhibit the most power in the Cubs’ farm system and is likely to become the cleanup hitter in the lineup behind Rizzo.

Almora is the youngest, but more polished, of the prospects and could also potentially be the center fielder pending the development or trade of either Jackson or Szczur.

Almora currently stands as the No.2 prospect behind Baez and could move up very quickly to the major leagues if he continues to dominate minor league pitching the way he has this summer.

This gives us a look at the Cubs’ potential 2015 lineup:

  • Szczur
  • Castro
  • Rizzo
  • Soler
  • Almora
  • Baez
  • Lake
  • Castillo

WHAT TO EXPECT

As Cub fans we’ve grown accustom to preaching patience. After all, what’s a few more years when we’ve already waited as long as we have for a World Series contender?

But what’s most exciting is the position players in the Cubs’ system are pretty darn good, granted most are still pretty far away from fielding a contending team together in the NL Central.

It’s likely, of course, the prospect landscape changes as Team Theo works the trade market to supplement pitching and acquire the finishing touches, which will eventually include the addition of free agents.

In the meantime, the objective remains to accumulate depth at every position, moving pieces that no longer fit and maintaining a strong prospect base for future success.

Like many of you, I’m a believer this era, in time, will pan out to be a perennial playoff team. But it does come at the cost of waiting, waiting and waiting some more. And in baseball years that could spells five seasons or more to fully complete the rebuild.

Even so, there’s no high-degree of certainty in developing prospects to perform at the desired levels needed in the majors.

Only time will tell, but pinning down the formula or the time frame is difficult in a sport as unpredictable and every changing as the game of baseball.

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Defining Moment Awaits Dale Sveum

By bullpenbrian - September 7, 2012 - 3:45 am 4 comments.

Recovering from this bloody beating against Washington is Dale Sveum’s biggest challenge to date with the Cubs. Not his win/loss record, not the 12-game losing streak, nor anything else this season compares to the immediate difficulty ahead.

Sveum’s club wasn’t just crushed on the scoreboard, they were crushed emotionally, which presents a threatening danger for the manager and his troops.

The carry-over effect could turn daunting for a team practically sprinting towards a franchise-worst record.

“Probably one of the biggest butt-whippings I’ve gotten in my career, as a coach or player.” “I don’t remember getting manhandled that bad in any kind of series I’ve ever been a part of.” –Dale Sveum

Being bludgeoned so decisively further weakens the shaky confidence of his younger players, diminishes his team’s moral and puts the club at risk of falling into a season-ending tailspin—essentially reaching depths more damaging than 103-losses.

In a season already long lost, that’s not something Sveum or the organization can afford to let happen.

CUBS SHOWING LACK OF DESIRE

I don’t know for certain if the Cubs mailed-it-in at the nation’s capitol, but it sure came across that way on television.

Chicago appeared mostly unresponsive, disinterested and content while getting their collective heads kicked-in by the Nats. For all intents and purposes, Chicago rolled-over in awe of the team with the major’s best record (85-52). It’s not about why the Cubs got swept, it’s how they got swept that’s troubling. 

The outcome doesn’t necessarily come as a shock given how young, inexperienced and out of contention the Cubs are this year. But it’s also not the kind of unacceptable effort Sveum can allow to fester.

Letting bad energy and raw emotions, the likes of which we saw from bench coach Jamie Quirk Thursday night, run a muck is kryptonite for a clubhouse. And once a skipper losses his clubhouse, there’s no getting it back (Bobby Valentine), not even Sveum, who’s being judged aside from mere wins and losses, can overcome such disruption.

Now, I’m not suggesting Sveum’s lost anything yet, but the risk is most definitely there after a humiliating series like this one.

IS SVEUM THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB?

Have I lost faith in Dale Sveum? Not at all. He’s pulled through numerous trials and tribulations this season …everything from clubhouse leader Kerry Wood’s early-season retirement, to lengthy losing streaks, to Bryan LaHair’s demise from All Star to bench-warmer, to watching the few good players he did have depart via trade at the end of July.

In fact, Sveum’s leadership has hardly come under question at all this season. He’s overcome every setback, taken every punch, and all the while continues to steady a sinking ship we believe is on course for brighter days ahead–for the Cubs and its manager.

That’s why I’d hate to see Sveum lose our faith and that of his players so close to season’s end. And I’d hate to think of the repercussions this offseason if he does lose the support on both sides.

Sveum’s done too good a job to lose it all now, but that’s what could be on the line as the Cubs continues its road trip through Pittsburgh and Houston…and over the final month of the regular season for that matter.

It’s going to take a lot more than one god-awful series to warrant Sveum’s dismissal. But failing to extinguish the dumpster-fire in DC only allows the chance for it to grow into a burning inferno.

So while there’s not much for Cubs fans to care about the rest of the way, Sveum’s response, and more importantly, his players’ response, from such an embarrassing series is well worth paying attention to.

If Sveum has anything left to prove in 2012, it’s that he can put out this fire–and pronto.

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Cubs’ Quirk, Nats’ Porter Ignite Bench Clearings

By bullpenbrian - September 7, 2012 - 3:30 am 8 comments.

Did anyone else feel Nationals’ third base coach Bo Porter should’ve been ejected from last night’s game?

I understand Porter felt the need to defend his turf from Cubs’ bench coach Jamie Quirk, who was chirping up a storm from the visitor’s dugout. But then for Porter to meander all the way over to the dugout steps, be restrained by Sveum, and still continuing taunting Quirk was equally unnecessary.

Porter’s tirade was aggressive, it was uncalled for and it was unsportsmanlike. His actions, in large part, led to both benches clearing not once, but twice. 

Washington, mind you, outscored the Cubs 31-9 this series. The Nats humiliated Chicago; beating them badly in every facet of the game. What did Porter need to say that the scoreboard didn’t show already? And what more did Porter need to do to be tossed?

By letting his emotions boil over Quirk crossed the line. The umpires ran him for it and I’ve got no problem with that decision. But Porter’s reaction to Quirk’s apparent frustrations crossed-the-line too, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t have hit the showers as early as Quirk did.

“The fracas was started because all that stuff that happened that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter,” umpiring crew chief Jerry Layne said. “And the obscenities that he screamed out, I just felt was inappropriate and that’s what caused everything.”

Obviously, whether or not Porter gets tossed is trivial. But getting killed on the scoreboard is ever more frustrating when it feels the officiating isn’t calling a fair fight, at least in the moment. 

Whatever. The entire series was bad all-around baseball for the Cubs. Thank goodness the butt-kicking wrapped up when it did. One more night watching the Cubs in the nation’s capitol and my head could explode. Now it’s on to Pittsburgh. Thank gawd it’s Friday.

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Cubs Billy Beane Style

By bullpenbrian - September 6, 2012 - 3:05 am Leave a comment.

I pulled a Billy Beane last night tuning out the Cubs game in favor of running an errand, grabbing a workout and taking a long walk home enjoying the beautiful weather along Lake Michigan.

I had my ideas how Volstad vs. Gonzalez would play out. It wasn’t pretty. And seeing as how the night before I spent the evening wanting to pound my head against the wall watching the Cubs get thumped, I figured, why watch this horror flick again?

Like Beane (at least how he’s portrayed in the movie ‘Moneyball’) I checked-in on last night’s game infrequently with my cell phone. If something historically big was happening in the Cubs favor, I had a friend standing by ready to call, which, needless to say, didn’t happen.

The first update I read was this Tweet:

Thanks goodness I left the condo. Although, with full disclosure, I did check-in one more time–9-0 after seven-innings. Great.

One difference between Billy Beane and myself is I’ll return to watching the Cubs tomorrow. That’s what baseball addicts do, especially a Cubs junkie like me who whole heartedly enjoys analyzing pitchers, hitters and the strategy of the game–even though the Cubs lack the talent to truly compete.

But I’m certain Cubs fans not as cursed as I am by this disease have already tuned-out North Side baseball; many doing so before the Nationals series, and most after watching the Cubs get walloped in Game 1.

For the most part I’ve kept my piece as a full supporter of the Cubs rebuild. I’ve saved my gripes for what’s been, thankfully, only the occasional stretch of poor effort from the Cubs.

Of course, every team suffers a few pitfalls along the way of a marathon season, but it’s one thing to be able to recover from them and another when you’re in the midst of a 100-loss season.

When talent is lacking, like it is with Chicago, effort is all you got, and that’s what’s made this two-game stretch at Washington so irritating.

Both games have not only been blowouts, but also a saddening display of disinterest on the Cubs part. In fact, it’s been the worst showing of effort, execution and performance this entire season, perhaps, only rivaled by getting swept in Arizona in late June.

If the Cubs’ desire to play the game doesn’t improve over the final four weeks of the regular season, I’ll likely spend more time watching the Cubs Billy Beane style–favoring box scores over the big screen.

I wish that wasn’t the case. But quite simply, this Cubs team has been incredibly hard to watch–even on paper.

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Weighing In On Stephen Strasburg

By bullpenbrian - September 6, 2012 - 2:15 am 6 comments.

The Nationals have the best record in the major leagues (84-52) and a Magic Number of (19). They ‘re 7.5 games up on Atlanta with four weeks remaining in the regular season–the division crown is all but a formality.

More importantly, Washington is fit to win the NL pennant, unless of course, they were to shut down their best pitcher for the rest of the season.

I understand Steven Strasburg is a huge investment. I understand the Nationals want to protect that investment. But if the decision is left up to me, he pitches the remainder of the season, including the playoffs.

That doesn’t mean I throw caution to the wind with Strasburg. Instead, I’d limit his workload; less innings and fewer games started down the stretch (as suggested by Tom Glavine).

There’s no question postseason pitching is a different animal than the regular season. Every pitch matters, and nearly every pitch is thrown with maxed-out effort. Is that a risk worth taking with Strasburg? I think it is, and here’s why.

A chance to win the World Series should be cherished. So much has to go right to reach such heights and so much cannot be controlled. There’s no guarantee the Nationals find themselves in the same position next year, or even in the coming seasons–with or without Strasburg.

Power-pitching is gold in October. It’s the difference-maker. It’s exactly what Strasburg should be for the Nationals. Shutting him down greatly limits that often fleeting opportunity to win now on a team poised to reach the Fall Classic.

“I’m not sure any of us understand, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Nats manager Davey Johnson.

I don’t think it’s the right move, and judging by Davey’s comment, he doesn’t think so, either.

Johnson himself is a fantastic manager. In fact, I’d consider him a saving grace if Washington sticks to its guns about shelving Strasburg. But good managing is hardly a replacement for a power-pitching ace like Strasburg in any postseason series.

Not to mention, if the Nationals don’t win the NL Pennant the thoughts of ‘what might have been’ could haunt this club for a long, long time. And that’s the last thing I want on my mind if I’m a member of the Nats organization.

When the time’s right to win, you go for it. You don’t play for next year and you don’t play scared. That’s how championships are won.

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Name That Cub!

By bullpenbrian - September 5, 2012 - 5:40 am 4 comments.

CT CityHall2.JPG

Hit .306 with a .434 OBP in August.
Ranks fifth on the team in 2B, BB & OBP.
Was a member of Cubs Opening Day roster.
His first career HR came off Bartolo Colon.
Originally signed by Seattle Mariners.
Name that Cub! (Answer after the jump)

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What To Expect In NL Central Postseason Race

By bullpenbrian - September 5, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

Here’s a quick overview of the National League Central’s postseason race as we’ve reached the final month of the regular season…

The Reds’ Magic Number is (18), the lowest of any division leader in baseball. They lead the Cardinals by 8.5 games and stand to win the division running away.

Cincy’s starting pitching has been incredibly durable this year, but it’s the lights-out bullpen that’s the difference-maker.

Marshall to Broxton to Chapman is as close as it gets to a sure victory with a late-inning lead, and the Cuban Missile has found his groove having converted his last 27 save chances–a franchise record.

There’s also plenty of offensive fire-power to go along with the pitching, as evidence by the club’s (32-16) record during the absence of Joey Votto, who was activated yesterday but did not play.

I’ve been on the record since spring training with Cincinnati as my favorite to win the division. Now I’m on the record as saying they’re my favorite to win it all in the National League this October.

Either way, there’s no ignoring the job Dusty Baker’s done in Cincinnati, which could earn him the NL Manager of the Year Award.

RED BIRDS

As much as I’d enjoy writing the Cardinals will miss the postseason, I still think they’ll earn a wild card.

While there’s little chance St. Louis catches the Reds, they do lead the NL in runs scored and the starting staff is plenty strong to hold off the wild card competition.

There’s also building speculation the seemingly indestructible Chris Carpenter will return to the rotation before season’s end.

Who knows how effective he’ll be after returning from a procedure to relieve his thoracic outlet syndrome (numbness), but it could be a key ingredient to securing a playoff spot if he’s indeed healthy down the stretch.

Per the usual, however, the Cardinals just win, always finding a way when there’s no clear path.

PEG LEGS

The Pirates’ listless second half continues. Although the Bucs are a mere 1.0 game out of the wild card, I’ve anticipated for weeks their season was about to get worse before it got better.

Those feeling have proven true with the Buccos relinquishing a 3.5 games lead in the wild card after posting a (7-17) record since August 9th.

The starting rotation is looking more tattered and thinned by the game. James McDonald has struggled with consistency after a brilliant first half. Wandy Rodriguez (3-4), acquired at the trade deadline, has basically been a bust. AJ Burnett (15-5) remains the lone bright spot on a starting staff that has allowed only seven fewer runs than the Cubs.

Only the Reds and Braves, however, have a stronger bullpen than Pittsburgh’s. But a faulty rotation has led to the pen’s overuse since the trade deadline, and it shows with the Pirates having allowed the most runs in August of any contender.

Pitching isn’t the only hole on this sinking ship; Pittsburgh is 11th in runs scored since the All Star break—not nearly good enough to keep up with the big boys in September.

That issue could have been resolved at the trading deadline, but Pittsburgh simply failed to add the offensive boost is so desperately needed to stay in contention.

The organization’s unwillingness to move prospects via trade is likely to pay off as early as next season, but it killed any momentum they had entering August.

With each passing week it becomes more clear how much the Pirates overachieved in the first half of the season when they led the division at the All Star break.

But this early feel-good story has become eerily similar to the club’s second half collapse last season when the Pirates led the division 100-games in only to finish with a 90-loss record.

A demise to such depths won’t happen this year (there’s only 37-games remaining), but I feel confident the Buccos (71-64) will eventually end up below the .500 mark for a saddening 20th consecutive year.

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