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Cubs MVP 2012

By bullpenbrian - October 11, 2012 - 1:15 am Leave a comment.

-Alfonso Soriano: .262/.322/.499, .821 OPS.

Say what you will about Sori, but this was his best all-around season with Chicago. Despite a nagging knee injury, Soriano played in 151-games, hit 32 HR and drove in a career-high 108 RBI, leading the club in both categories, with little protection in the lineup.

He may not win the Gold Glove, but his fielding was the best it’s ever been and the guy earned every penny of his contract setting a positive example for the youthful Cubs both on and off the field.

Now it’s a matter of whether or not the Cubs should trade him this offseason? If so, how do the Cubs replace Soriano’s offensive production, or is it best to keep him for another season?

Honorable mentions: Darwin Barney (clutch fielding, leadership), David DeJesus (gamer, leadership), Anthony Rizzo (sparked lineup, solid defense), Shawn Camp (because Sveum says so!).

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Cubs Best Fielder 2012

By bullpenbrian - October 11, 2012 - 12:10 am Leave a comment.

-Darwin Barney: A no-brainer. Set the NL record and tied the major league record for most consecutive games at 2B without a fielding error (141).

And despite the consecutive-games errorless streak, Barney continued to show solid range, dive after balls and make difficult throws from his position.

He started the second most games (146), turned the second most double plays (96) and his two miscues were the fewest of any regular starting second baseman in the National League.

It’s a crime if Barney doesn’t win the Gold Glove. And no, I don’t think the Cubs should trade Darwin this offseason…see above. Honorable mentions: Alfonso Soriano (12 assists, 1 error, .996), David DeJesus (8 assists, 2 errors, .993), Reed Johnson (3 assists, 1 error, .987).

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Cubs’ Most Improved Player

By bullpenbrian - October 10, 2012 - 12:10 pm 2 comments.

-Anthony Rizzo 2012: .285/.342/.463, .805 OPS.

After an underwhelming debut with San Diego in 2011 (.141, 1 HR, 9 RBI) Rizzo revamped his swing at Triple-A Iowa to become a legit hitting threat for the Cubs upon his arrival in late June.

In just over half a season (87-games) Rizzo hit 15 HR and drove in 48 RBI. In addition to his power, he also hit for average, against left-handers (4 HR, 17 RBI) and in the clutch with a sparkling .338 average with RISP. He finished second only to Soriano in game-winning RBI and held down the No.3 spot in the order from day one.

All signs indicate Rizzo will be a fixture at first base for years to come, a perennial All Star and a key figure in the Cubs’ rebuilding plans.

Perhaps the only thing more exciting than Rizzo’s improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 is how much better he could become next season.

Honorable mention: Alfonso Soriano 32 HR, career-high 108 RBI, best defensive season of his career.

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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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Why Alfonso Soriano Should Win Gold Glove

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

Believe me when I say Alfonso Soriano should win a Gold Glove this season.

It’s hard to fathom considering Soriano’s reputation for poor defense, but statistically he’s well within the running, if not leading the way for the award.

Only three National League left fielders have started more games than Soriano (117) this season: Matt Holliday (128), Ryan Braun (123) & Carlos Gonzalez (119).

Braun, however, is the only player to have more Total Chances (+33), Putouts (+30) and a higher Range Factor (1.97) than Soriano (1.82).

Arizona’s Jason Kubel does hold an edge in outfield Assists (11) to Soriano’s (9), but it’s Alfonso who has helped turn more Double Plays (4) than any of his competition.

Oh yeah, Soriano also remains the lone player yet to commit an error.

WILL VOTERS RECOGNIZE SORIANO?

Whereas I doubt the manager and coaches (who vote on the award) are willing to favor Braun since he sidestepped his steroids suspension, Kubel appears Soriano’s best competition.

Car-Go, meanwhile, has been splendid roaming one of the largest outfields in baseball at Coors Field, and Martin Prado remains a dark horse candidate in Atlanta. But neither has separated themselves ahead of Soriano.

Perhaps the best news for Soriano, knowing how much the managers and coaches enjoy sticking with past winners, is that reigning Gold Glover, Gerardo Parra, is all but eliminated since being demoted to a fourth outfield option (behind Kubel, nonetheless) for Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks.

WHY SORIANO’S MOST DESERVING 

It can’t be ignored Soriano’s range is limited by his bum legs, even playing in Wrigley’s small outfield. But unlike years past, Soriano has shown a willingness to rub shoulders with the ivy covered brick wall and run hard to field balls hit into the corner–in addition to making all the routine plays.

There are, unquestionably, better athletes manning left field in the National League who field the position with more pizzazz and more style points than Soriano earns, but that doesn’t necessarily make them more worthy of the Gold Glove, either.

And if you’re someone who believes the bat plays just as an important factor as the fielding statistics in winning the Gold Glove, Soriano has that wrapped up, too.

That’s why I’m convinced it’s Soriano’s Gold Glove to lose over the final five weeks of the regular season. Just talking about it seems weird enough, but imagine if he wins…

That means it’s entirely possible the Cubs would field two Gold Glove Award winners (Soriano/Barney) on a team with, or near, 100-losses. I wonder if that’s ever happened before?

Minutia aside, don’t be caught by surprise if Soriano wins gold. He’s played his tail off this season while reaching a level defensively most of us thought he wasn’t capable of or willing to achieve.

It probably won’t be any easier to comprehend if a Gold Glove does come Soriano’s way, but there’s no denying he’s earned the honor–as head-shaking and unbelievable as it will be.

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Remembering 2008 Cubs Comeback vs. Colorado

By bullpenbrian - September 1, 2012 - 2:15 am 3 comments.

Remember the Cubs thrilling comeback win against Colorado in late May of 2008? I know many of you do and probably just immediately thought of Mark DeRosa’s dramatic 2-R HR.

For those of you with a foggy recollection, let me jog your memory a bit. The Cubs trailed 9-1 after five innings, but rallied for a 10-9 victory behind home runs from Henry Blanco, Kosuke Fukudome, Jim Edmonds, and the blast off DeRosa’s bat.

This wasn’t just a tremendous comeback in Cubs history, it was a staple win that legitimized the first place Cubs as the best team in the National League (Ah, now you remember!).

I bring this particular game up because it reminds me so much of the Cubs dramatic come-from-behind win on Thursday against Milwaukee; a game in which Chicago trailed 9-3, then tied the score 9-9 in the sixth only to enter the bottom of the ninth down 11-9 before scoring three runs to cap off a 12-11 victory.

The dramatics were eerily similar to 2008, with one exception being the Cubs scored all 12-runs Thursday without the benefit of a home run.

But as my good friend @jdgershbein (he’s as true-blue a Cubs fan as they come) reminded me, there’s one big difference between these two comeback games–the 2008 victory actually meant something.

WILL ANYONE REMEMBER?

Thursday’s win, as memorable as it should be, will most likely be forgotten in a season that’s on course to be remembered as one of the worst in franchise history.

I bet a significant portion of Cubs fans are still unaware this comeback even happened. Probably more don’t even care to know. But that’s the cost of doing business for a team playing 30-games below .500.

Thursday’s game was played in front of a crowd of less than 20,000 (and much fewer stayed to see Soriano’s walkoff hit 4:09 minutes after the first pitch) whereas the comeback win against the Rockies was finished out in front of a packed house at Wrigley Field.

That win four-years ago is exactly the kind of ‘memorable experience’ every baseball organization hopes for–the type that keeps its fans wanting more—and precisely what Thursday’s game was not.

DOES THURSDAY’S WIN MEAN ANYTHING?

The comeback against Colorado capped off an (18-11) month of May for the Cubs, gave them a five-game winning streak (which stretched to nine-games) and enthralled even the most fringe Cubs fans to pay attention to the team on a daily basis.

Thursday’s win, however, won’t share the same effect for the masses. But it does tell those of us sticking with the team through the bitter end a thing or two about the character of these young Cubs and their manager.

Most notably, the Cubs never gave-in despite playing out the string against another underperforming team, in front of another underwhelming home crowd.

Dale Sveum, to his credit, never threw-in the towel as evidence by his five pitching changes and substitution of what appeared to be a lackadaisical Bryan LaHair in favor of Alfonso Soriano.

The young guns of Castro, Rizzo, Vitters, Jackson, Valbuena and Castillo battled start-to-finish. Their young enthusiasm helped spark the play of veterans David DeJesus and Soriano.

”Those young guys don’t give up,” said Soriano.

While the effort is appreciated and does give the club something to hang its hat on this season, we can only be certain the Cubs will waste more ‘memorable games’ even with the most promising possibilities of the Cubs fielding a competitive team by 2015.

But when the Cubs do blossom from pretender to contender, and I’m confident they will, we’re sure to see many more unbelievable come-from-behind wins like Thursday’s. That, after all, is what good teams do–win crazy games and win a lot of them.

Only then, however, most Cubs fans will immediately think back to a late May game in 2008 when the Cubs rallied from down 9-1 to beat the Rockies.

Meanwhile, Thursday’s game will have already become a faint, if not forgotten, memory, just another meaningless win in a season filled with seemingly 100 unmemorable losses.

And to that I say, what a shame.

*Fun side note. The losing pitcher for the Rockies in the 2008 comeback win? Now current Cubs reliever, Manny Corpas :)

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Soriano’s Last HR For Cubs?

By bullpenbrian - August 10, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

Got to wonder if Alfonso Soriano’s game-winning home run against the Reds last night is his last as a Chicago Cub?

He’s played exceptionally well since resting his tired legs during the All Star break (.279/.319/.581 – 5 HR, 18 RBI), at least well enough to entice a contending team to trade for him this month.

That would obviously be a huge plus for Chicago, but Soriano’s hefty contract ($18M through 2014) and no-trade clause does make it a bit tricky for the Cubs to find the right suitor, as was the case at the non-waiver trade deadline.

That said, there’s still a handful of contenders in need of an offensive upgrade for the stretch run, and but few players available are performing as well as Soriano.

WAS THERE SOMETHING MORE TO SORIANO’S HR?

I’m also wondering if Logan Ondrusek unintentionally lit a fire under Soriano when the pitcher’s apparent irritation with the Wrigley Field mound conditions drew the grounds crew out to manicure the bump in the middle of Soriano’s at-bat?

The entire game to that point had been played under rainy conditions, not once being halted mid-contest to landscape the diamond, and now suddenly the game needed to be interrupted?

Soriano followed by manicuring an Ondrusek pitch into the juniper bushes for the game-winning hit. Nothing quite like a walk in the park after some unnecessary field maintenance ;)

SORIANO MOVING UP CUBS ALL-TIME HR LIST

That bomb marks the eleventh straight season Alfonso has hit at least 20 home runs. Pretty darn impressive.

It’s also his 152 career home run with Chicago, good for 13th place on the franchise’s all-time home run list. Andre Dawson is next with 174.

Billy Williams, who sang the seventh inning stretch yesterday evening (and added a nice tribute to Ron Santo beforehand) is third all-time with 392. Ernie Banks’ 512 dingers ranks second behind the one and only, Sammy Sosa’s 545.

CUBS IN FULL SPOILER MODE

The lowly Cubs, losers of eight-straight, appeared to be the cure-all medicine to the Reds four-game losing skid entering last night’s contest.

Instead, the Cubs 5-3 win was a bitter pill to swallow for Cincinnati, whose losing skid extended to a season-high five-straight games.

With the two clubs squaring off eight times in the next 10 days, including last night, fewer than six total wins over the two series is simply unacceptable for a Reds team fighting tooth and nail for a division title.

There’s only eight weeks left in the season and the Pirates and Cardinals won’t feel sorry the Reds are without Joey Votto.

Cincinnati has one more series left against Chicago in September in addition to six more games against Houston, the worst team in baseball. The Reds couldn’t wish for a more favorable schedule to distance itself from Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

So as insignificant as this series appears for the Cubs, if they can do further damage against the Reds in the coming days it could very well be the telling stretch Cincinnati looks back on if they fail to win the NL Central.

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Celebrating the Trade Deadline

By bullpenbrian - July 31, 2012 - 5:59 pm Leave a comment.

I found today’s non-waiver trade deadline thrilling. Lots of player movement, big names in the mix, and the hotly contested division races in both leagues seemed to get even tighter.

I’d love to ramble on about the winners and losers during today’s trading period, but the exhaustion of pulling an all-nighter and then updating the trade tracker this afternoon is finally taking its toll.

By no means is this a complaint. There’s simply no place I’d rather be than working the phones and the keyboard like a mad-man! But the adrenaline from the early mornings hours has worn thin—Dempster, after all, has been traded!

So we’ll save those thoughts on the deadline trades for a latter post.

In the meantime, I’m taking a break from the computer and heading to Wrigley Field for tonight’s Cubs vs. Pirates game.

I’ll definitely do some tweeting, but I’m largely looking to relax for a bit and just enjoy watching the Cubs, or what’s left of them.

Greatly appreciate everyone who checked in on the Trade Tracker. Always looking out for the visual learners :)

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Latest Alfonso Soriano Trade Rumors

By bullpenbrian - July 27, 2012 - 3:01 am Leave a comment.

Soriano Trade

I’ve updated the graphic according to the latest trade rumors surrounding Alfonso Soriano.

The Indians have long been searching for a right-handed power bat and  appear they won’t stand much of a chance in the playoff race without one.

Tampa Bay is another likely suitor, but will need plenty of help financially from the Cubs, who by all accounts are willing to eat a generous amount of the enormous sum of money remaining on Soriano’s contract. The Rays also DFA 38-year-old Hideki Matsui (.147, 2 HR, 7 RBI) on Wednesday.

Baltimore, in need of more pop in its lineup, traded for Jim Thome three weeks ago. But the oft-injured 41-year-old slugger (he missed a month with back issues in Philadelphia) has hit but 2 HR with 5 RBI since joining the O’s.

The Giants are a dark horse, but could use more run production in its outfield, especially after the Dodgers landed Hanley Ramirez earlier this week.

I’m not ruling Los Angeles out until Ryan Dempster is traded elsewhere or it’s announced he’s sticking with the Cubs through 2012. The Dodgers still need offensive help, even after dealing for Ramirez, and the Cubs must be creative in trade talks as long as Dempster holds fast to his preference to pitch in LA.

As a reminder, the larger the team logo, the more rumored interest.

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