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Sports Illustrated Preview, Cubs (67-95), 5th NL Central

By bullpenbrian - March 30, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Wrigley Field

Sports Illustrated’s MLB preview says the Cubs will finish (67-95), fifth in the NL Central. Writer Albert Chen does a nice job with the Cubs preview, which you can read here.

Not certain if Chen decided the Cubs final record or if that was a staff pick. But it’s in the neighborhood of where I have the Cubs finishing the season (72-90), fifth in the division.

My only true disagreement with the piece is Bryan LaHair being tabbed as Chicago’s biggest loss from last season. While he did finish the campaign second on the team in HRs (16), LaHair was a disappointment in the season’s second half, transitioning from All-Star to bench warmer.

I suspected some of LaHair’s struggles were due in part to the arrival of Anthony Rizzo in late June, which forced LaHair from first base to the outfield.

Nonetheless, Rizzo was clearly the better player offensively hitting one fewer HR (15) than LaHair and driving in eight more runs (48) in 12 fewer plate appearances and 43 fewer games. Darwin Barney, who posted an on-base percentage under .300 (.299) managed to drive in four more runs (44) than LaHair (40) as well.

Even without Rizzo the Cubs would likely be better off without LaHair in 2013. And we can fairly assume the young Rizzo will perform just as well, if not better, than he did last season.

For my money the biggest loss was Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25), who managed a quality start in 69-percent of his outings, had an ERA+174 and a 3.5 WAR. Jeff Samardzija could push for similar numbers this season, but the Cubs will be hard pressed to get Dempster-esque production from their other starters aside from Shark.

“The Cubs are headed in the right direction, with a vastly improved farm system and a promising young core in place, but nobody’s putting the champagne on ice just yet. Next year will be a different story if prospects like Soler and Baez begin making an impact earlier than expected.” –Chen SI.com

Simply put, I see two factors determining the Cubs’ season. 1.) How well they start the season in the win/loss column. 2.) What happens at the trade deadline?

If the Cubs play well in the first three months we could see fewer moves at the trade deadline, which could mean a respectable second half, and an overall record that avoids 100-losses. If not, however, we can expect another yard sale similar to last season’s July moves and the team fighting to avoid triple digit losses during the final two months.

Either way, let’s just be excited Cubs baseball back–for better or worse.


Cubs Home Opener Countdown

By bullpenbrian - March 29, 2013 - 7:05 pm Leave a comment.

10 days


Fantasy Baseball Names for Chicago Cubs Fans

By bullpenbrian - March 28, 2013 - 12:01 am Leave a comment.

Fantasy Baseball

Still in need of a team name for your fantasy baseball league?
Look no further than this list of 10 well suited nicknames for Cubbies fans.
Feel free to use, at your own risk of course!

Click here


Cubs Transaction History March 27: The D-Train, Matt Clement & Carlos Silva

By bullpenbrian - March 27, 2013 - 4:55 pm Leave a comment.

Matt Clement Chicago Cubs

Here’s a quick look at some of the more notable moves by the Cubs on
March 27.

  • MARCH 27, 2002

The Cubs traded Jose Cueto, Ryan Jorgensen, Julian Tavarez and Dontrelle Willis to the Florida Marlins for Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement.

Clement immediately established himself as the No.2 starter behind Kerry Wood in 2002 before becoming an integral part of the Cubs’ division winning team in 2003. In both seasons he made 32 starts, pitched more than 200.0 innings and won a combined 26 games.

His final season with Chicago (2004) wasn’t as productive on paper, but he posted a career-best ERA+120 while going (9-13, 3.68) in 30 starts and 181.0 innings pitched. Interestingly, according to Clement’s WAR score his best season in Chicago was in 2002 (4.2) followed by 2004 (3.5) and finally 2003 (2.6)–perhaps the season he’s best remembered for.

Alfonseca, meanwhile, was the poster child of a replacement level player in his two seasons with the Cubs posting a (0.1) WAR in 2002 and a (0.0) WAR in ’03. His best asset was durability, making 126 appearances in those two season. But his combined ERA hovered around 5.00. Although, he did manage 3.1 scoreless innings during the 2003 playoffs.

However, I’ve always felt one of Jim Hendry’s biggest mistakes as general manager was failing to add more bullpen help at the 2003 trade deadline. I think, at least partly, that’s one reason why Dusty was so keen to stick with his starters longer than he should have. That wasn’t to say the bullpen was poor, but it could have used more support than Dave Veres, Juan Cruz, Todd Wellemeyer and the ‘Octopus’ known as Antonio Alfonseca.

Tavarez made 28 starts for Chicago in 2001 and then bounced around for another eight seasons in the majors—nearly all of it after converting to a reliever.

Willis of course went on to win the 2003 Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the Cy Young Award in 2005. The wheels began to fall off  in 2007 before his trade to Detroit, where he progressively pitched worse upon arrival. That eventually led to his release and partial stints with Arizona and Cincinnati, among other brief stops, before reuniting with the Cubs this spring.

Unfortunately, Willis suffered shoulder discomfort just seven pitches into his comeback with Chicago and hasn’t pitched in a game since—and it’s reasonable to believe he may never do so again.

  • MARCH 27, 2010

On this date the Texas Rangers purchased from the Cubs slick-fielding shortstop Andres Blanco. He managed to play 53 games for Chicago in ’09 but his inability to hit consistently (.252/.303/.341) pushed him down the Cubs’ lengthy infield depth chart, one which included Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, Chad Tracy and the lovable Bobby Scales. And that didn’t include two rising stars named Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney.

Blanco temporarily made headway with the Rangers the following season hitting .277/.330/.349. He played 40 games at second base and 16 games at short. But the arrival of talented shortstop Elvis Andrus, combined with the recovery of an injured Ian Kinsler at second base, put Blanco on the outs in Texas. He’s currently playing in the Phillies’ system.

  • MARCH 27, 2011

The Cubs release Carlos Silva. You can trace this one back to the debacle that was the Milton Bradley experience in 2009. After Bradley alienated his teammates, the fans and finally the entire organization, Hendry somehow convinced the Mariners to trade for him during the offseason. In return Seattle sent cash and their own malcontent in Silva.

The portly right-hander managed a respectable 10 wins in 21 starts with the Cubs, but injuries limited him to just two starts following the All-Star break. Silva struggled the following spring, reportedly clashed with teammates and manager Mike Quade, and was finally given the heave-ho. Despite his relatively young age at the time, 31, Silva has never pitched in the majors again.


Spring Training Records As Misleading As Your NCAA Bracket

By bullpenbrian - March 26, 2013 - 1:30 am 4 comments.

Leo Durocher

Not a year passes that I don’t become more convinced spring training stats are nothing more than fiddle-faddle to keep us busy until opening day. What little information we do get from spring training numbers come from small sample sizes, and hardly provides enough evidence to predict what October baseball will look like, or which players will excel during the regular season.

For heaven’s sake, Felix Pie is batting .417/.585/1.002 with Pittsburgh this spring. Anyone predicting a Silver Slugger Award? Didn’t think so.

Nonetheless, this year’s nonsensical spring stats discussion centers around the Kansas City Royals, who have a sparkling (22-6) record in the Cactus League. “Looks like that whopper of a trade with Tampa Bay has already paid off”…”The Royals appear poised to break through in 2013.”

But haven’t we learned these spring feel-good stories never last, that it’s inevitable the always bumbling Royals will falter again when the games matter most? 

As a reminder, I’ve gone back through final spring training standings since 2007 detailing how misleading a team’s spring record can be. And if you’re someone who hasn’t already taken notice, make sure to jump off the Royals bandwagon before the wheels fall off. 

  • 2013 The Royals, who finished with 90 regular season losses last year, lead the way this spring at (22-6). Meanwhile, the Reds, who won the second most games in baseball in 2012 (97), and are again the favorite in the National League Central, stand (9-18) in the Cactus League. Any doubts these fortunes won’t flip?
  • 2012 Toronto set the bar in Grapefruit League play going (24-7). They finished the regular season with 89 losses and a fourth place standing in the AL East. Atlanta finished the spring (10-18), then won 94 regular season games and the NL wild card. Texas (12-17) in the spring, won 93 games and the AL wild card. Oh, and the Nats,(12-17) in the spring, later won the most games in baseball (98).
  • 2011 The Twins ran away with the Grapefruit League title (20-12). Then lost 99 games in the regular season, posting the second worst record in the majors (Houston 106). Those pesky Royals finished the spring with the best record in the Cactus League (20-10). Then lost 91 regular season games.
  • 2010 Texas (10-19) in spring training, won 90 games, the AL wild card and reached the World Series. Cleveland posted the best mark in the Cactus League (19-9), before losing 93 regular season games.
  • 2009 Atlanta had the second-best record in the Grapefruit League (21-12), but missed the playoffs and finished third in the NL East. Milwaukee went (22-10) in Cactus League play before finishing two-games below .500 in the regular season. The Dodgers struggled to a (15-22) spring record before winning 95 games and the NL West.
  • 2008 Boston was a complete mess (8-13) during the spring. But won 95 regular season games, the AL wild card and reached the ALCS. Oakland posted the best record in the Cactus League (18-8), then lost 86 games during the regular season. The Cubs finished the spring (15-15) and still found a way to win the most regular season games in the National League (97).
  • 2007 Detroit took top honors in the Grapefruit League (21-10) but couldn’t reach the playoffs. Houston had the second-best Grapefruit League record going (18-11). They lost 89 regular season games. The Rangers ended Cactus League play (16-11) before finishing last in the AL West with 87 losses.

Cubs Cactus League (CL) vs. Regular Season (RS) Records

  • 2012: CL (17-16) RS (61-101)
  • 2011: CL (14-19) RS (71-91)
  • 2010: CL (18-12) RS (75-87)
  • 2009: CL (18-18) RS (83-78)
  • 2008: CL (15-15) RS (97-64)
  • 2007: CL (17-13) RS (85-77)

Name That Cub!

By bullpenbrian - March 25, 2013 - 12:05 am 1 comment.

Cubs Logo

Attended University of Washington.
College teammate of Tim Lincecum.
Drafted by Pirates in 2005.
Traded 4 times in his 5 big league seasons.
Played every position except pitcher and catcher.
Name that Cub! (Answer after the jump)


Cubs’ Plan-B Saving Rotation

By bullpenbrian - March 24, 2013 - 4:45 pm 2 comments.

Scott Feldman

At the beginning of spring camp the Cubs had more starting pitching arms than spots available in the rotation. Now a week out before opening day and the Cubs have just enough arms to fill out a decent rotation: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva. That’s a credit to Team Theo.

Had the Cubs failed to sign either Edwin Jackson or Scott Feldman the rotation would be in dire straits entering the season. But despite the injuries to Matt Garza (pulled lat muscle) and Scott Baker (strained elbow), both of whom will miss extended time recovering, Chicago still has a decent chance of contending out of the gate.

As often as we hear ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, it’s not unusual for teams to fall short when adding starting pitching depth. That’s partly because good starting pitching is hard to find. But I assume another reason is good starting pitching cost good money–and some teams simply don’t want to spend on players they view as insurance policies.

However, if you do need those insurance arms, and don’t have them, you’re in a world of trouble. And the 2011 Cubs under Jim Hendry are a perfect example.

The season wasn’t a week old before the starting rotation ran off the track with injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Wells was sidelined nearly two months and Cashner didn’t return until September, as a reliever no less.

Meanwhile, Hendry was left to fill the holes with 23-year-old Casey Coleman
(3-9, 6.40 ERA) and 35-year-old Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.42 ERA)  for a combined 40 starts. And that doesn’t include the drastic desperation move
of signing 35-year-old Doug Davis, who lit the mound on fire going (1-7, 6.50 ERA) in nine starts.

Chicago was doomed from the onset without a viable Plan B for the starting staff. That, in combination with other roster shortcoming, put the team on course for a 91-loss season.

The Cubs’ record this season may not be any better than it was two years ago. But we can rest assured it won’t be from a lack of preparation to supplement the rotation with good arms in case of injuries.

Part of understanding the importance of rotation depth is knowing whatever plan you do have in place is only as good as its Plan B.


Cubs Notes Entering Final Week of Spring Camp

By bullpenbrian - March 23, 2013 - 2:50 pm Leave a comment.

Dale Sveum

This is it, folks. One more week of spring games before the lid lifter at Pittsburgh on April 1st. And somewhat surprisingly, this year marks the first time since 1978 the Cubs will open on the road against the Pirates. Who knew?

Meanwhile, this time next weekend the Cubs will be in Houston for two exhibition games against the Astros to wrap up the spring. Entering this afternoon’s Cactus League contest against the Angels at HoHoKam Stadium, the Cubs are (14-15) overall having won 9 of their last 14 games.

Minutia of note:

  • Cubs pitching has walked just 2 batters in the last 5 games.
  • And for the spring has allowed 3 or fewer walks in 18 games (Nice).
  • Chicago’s 43 spring HRs are second most in the majors (Seattle, 47).
  • David DeJesus is on a 10-game hitting streak.
  • Dioner Navarro leads the club with 11 RBI.
  • Carlos Marmol has not allowed a run over his last 6 outings (5.2 IP).

Will Alfonso Soriano Top 40 Home Runs?

By bullpenbrian - March 21, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Alfonso Soriano

It took Alfonso Soriano 119 at-bats to hit his first home run last season.
You may even remember the dramatic solo blast.

Soriano tagged St. Louis flame-thrower Jason Motte in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game 6-6. More specifically, his smash was just one of two home runs Soriano hit to the opposite field in 2012 (video here).

Alfonso Soriano home run

Unfortunately, the Cubs would go on to lose this particular game on a walkoff hit by Yadier Molina (Grr!). But Soriano, as we came to see, was ready to embark on a home run tear.

Despite the fact Bryan LaHair already had 10 HRs, including one during this game, Soriano not only caught LaHair, but went on to stroke a team-leading 32 HRs by season’s end. It marked his second-highest home run total (33) since joining Chicago in 2007.

According to hittrackeronline.com, Soriano finished second in the National League in ‘No Doubt’ home runs (11), defined by the site as “the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.” Giancarlo Stanton led the NL with 12 no-doubters and Josh Hamilton took top honors in the American League with 15 deep blasts.

Soriano went yard 15 times at Wrigley Field. But his longest home run at the Friendly Confines, a 429 ft shot off San Diego’s Eric Stults, was only his fourth longest of the season.


  • 452 ft off Zack Stewart, US Cellular Field (video here)
    443 ft off P.J. Walters, Target Field
    435 ft off J.A. Happ, Minute Maid Park

Much of the credit for Soriano’s eventual power surge is credited to manager Dale Sveum gently nudging Soriano to switch to a lighter bat. This appeared to allow Soriano to regain some bat speed that’s naturally lost in a 36-year-old body with tattered legs.

Meanwhile, with the Cubs relying heavily on Soriano to carry the offense this season, the hope is he can come out of the gate much quicker than he did in 2012.

Coupled with a healthy body (Soriano also battled a nagging knee injury for six weeks last year) and Anthony Rizzo protecting him in the order, there’s reason to believe Soriano could take a crack at hitting 40 HRs, which he’s done on one other occasion, hitting 46 with Washington in 2006.

Not only would this be a huge lift for a Cubs offense, which is likely to struggle scoring runs, but the trade possibilities for a healthy, homer-happy Soriano could net Chicago a pretty return at the trade deadline.

However, the truth of the matter is Soriano could also get off to another slow start, suffer an injury or simply show signs that his tired legs are finally out of gas. That’s part of the risk the Cubs have taken by holding onto Soriano this winter and throughout the beginning of the season.

But we also know Soriano brings more to the table than just home runs. His leadership and work ethic are praised by the organization and teammates alike.

That doesn’t erase the albatross of a contract hanging around his neck and squeezing the Cubs’ budget, but another solid year would be a fresh reminder not all of Soriano’s remaining 2 year, $18 million contract is dead money that’s gone to waste—even if it takes him another 120 at-bats to find his groove.

Alfonso Soriano home runs 2012


Three Tough Questions Facing the Cubs in 2013

By bullpenbrian - March 21, 2013 - 10:05 am Leave a comment.


What are three of the tougher questions facing the Cubs this season?
Scoring runs tops the list and avoiding 100-losses ends it.
What’s in the middle may surprise you.



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