It wasn’t the Sandberg Game, but Anthony Rizzo’s walk-off home run against the Cardinals will hold a similarly special place in our hearts.
The kid’s flair for the dramatic has been simply unreal since his call-up on June 26 and seems to grow stronger with each opportunity to deliver when it matters most.
Rizzo quickly collected three game-winning RBI in his first five games (the first Cubs player ever to do so) and four game-winning RBI through his first 10 games as a member of the Cubs.
His walk-off blast Sunday marked his sixth game-winning RBI–second only to Alfonso Soriano’s team-leading 10.
Additionally, Rizzo wrapped up the Cardinals series going 5-for-12 with 2 HR, 5 RBI and 3 runs scored. His first home run came Friday against one of the NL’s toughest starting pitchers, a first inning two-run shot against Lance Lynn giving the Cubs a brief 3-1 lead.
Rizzo, not to forget, was also twice robbed of hits during the series. The first, a spectacular diving catch by CF Jon Jay on Friday. The second, a nifty play in the hole by SS Daniel Descalso on Sunday.
It’s only been a small 27-game sample for Rizzo, but it’s head-shaking to imagine how much better things will get for the calm, cool and collected 22-year-old budding star.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH BRYAN LAHAIR?
I’ve started to wonder if Bryan LaHair’s steady decline offensively has anything to do with Rizzo’s arrival, which forced LaHair from first base to right field?
It’s not uncommon for players to struggle offensively when asked to play out of position, and LaHair has clearly slumped since June 26: .214, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 walks vs. 29-K.
Although LaHair did play some outfield in the minor leagues, he spent the majority of his time at first base, perhaps suggesting one reason he’s struggled so mightily since a blazing hot start to the season.
I noticed some Twitter followers point out LaHair’s altered batting stance since the beginning of the season, a possible attempt to help him hit inside breaking balls?
I suspect advanced scouting has something to do with his slump as well, updating ‘the book’ on how to get the once hot-hitting LaHair out.
Of course, it could be any number of issues plaguing LaHair: new fielding position, new stance, better scouting, or even something as simple as Rizzo stealing LaHair’s early season thunder? Or maybe LaHair’s experiencing some personal guilt with not performing the way he believes a first time All Star should?
Whatever the case, LaHair’s looked miserable at the plate the past several weeks. No confidence, it appears, whatsoever. This couldn’t have been more obvious Sunday as LaHair went an ugly 0-for-3 at the plate with three strikeouts while stranding three runners on base.
KEEP LAHAIR OR TRADE HIM?
My hope for LaHair is that whatever change(s) needs to happen for him to get back on track offensively is anything but a return back to first base.
Rizzo is far and away the better fielding first baseman, his left-handedness is also a plus, and there’s no way Sveum’s moving Rizzo to the outfield or platooning him with LaHair at first base.
In fact, the more I think about it the more I believe the best fix for LaHair is a change of scenery before the trade deadline.
OLYMPICS A REMINDER THE BEST DON’T ALWAYS FINISH FIRST
The luster of the Summer Olympics wore off on me some time ago. I’m not sure why it happened and I don’t care to bother you flushing out the details in a blog post, either.
However, I still enjoy watching the Olympics from a distance, catching whatever events happen to be televised at the time I tune in.
Sunday night it was the USA women’s gymnastics team (in favor of yet ANOTHER Yankees vs. Red Sox broadcast on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball).
The headline story was Jordan Wieber, the defending world all-around gymnastics champion, failing to qualify for the same event at the London Games.
A silly and very controversial rule allowing only two team members from one country to compete for the gold medal in the all-around competition squeezed Wieber out of the hunt.
The television analyst felt Wieber had been judged too critically during her performance and the silly two-member per-team rule deprived not only Wieber of the chance to defend her world title, but the rest of the Olympic women gymnast from legitimizing the gold medal with the world’s reigning champion on the sidelines.
Wieber was emotionally crushed, rightfully so, teary-eyed and heart-broken in front of the world. It was brutal television watching this 17-year-old girl trying to collect her emotions for what I considered an ill-advised television interview.
Emotionally charged as the scene was, I had to fight back tears. My heart was heavy for Wieber. Four years of hard training for this–a technicality keeping her from achieving “her dream to win the all-around gold medal.”
It’s a saddening feeling I’ve felt many times as a sports fan, and particularly when thinking back on the Cubs quick exodus from the 2008 playoffs.
Wieber, as sad and unfortunate as the case was Sunday night, is just another reminder that the best team doesn’t always win top prize, as our Cubbies should have four years ago.
Sometimes, it’s just not your day. Other times, often when least expected, it turns out everything you touch turns to gold.
It happens in October all the time.
The Baltimore Orioles have made preliminary trade calls on Bryan LaHair according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.
The Cubs would seem inclined to trade LaHair given he’s looked the furthest thing from an All Star hitter since early June.
Although LaHair quickly squashed the notion he wouldn’t hit at the major league level the way he did in the Pacific Coast League, he’s just as quickly failed to prove he can produce consistently over the course of a marathon 162-game schedule.
Consider the following: since June 1 LaHair’s average has dipped 35-points, his OBP is down 44-points, and he hasn’t homered over his last 38 at-bats (July 4).
Furthermore, LaHair has but 10 RBI vs. 47 strikeouts during his last 40 games while continuing to struggle against LHP (.070)–3-for-33, 1 HR, 1 RBI & 26 Ks.
Matt Garza, for heaven’s sake, has two hits against southpaws for a .125 average, and Anthony Rizzo is 7-for-33 against lefties.
MAKING THE ADJUSTMENTS
It’s obvious opposing pitchers have made the necessary adjustments against LaHair since his blazing hot start to the season.
But it begs the question if LaHair is able to make his own adjustments to get back on track?
LaHair, as we know him, has been a late bloomer, which his tenuous minor league career suggest. So it’s not inconceivable to think he could bounce back and finish the year strong given the opportunity.
“Most scouts believe Bryan LaHair has legitimate late-blooming power like Nelson Cruz and Jose Bautista, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN.”
This, however, poses two problems.
What do the Cubs, with the worst record in MLB, gain by sitting Bryan LaHair vs. left-handed pitching?
The Cubs are (4-17) against southpaws. Their .221 avg. against left-handers ranks 15/16 in the National League.
Jeff Baker, who often serves as LaHair’s replacement against lefties, is hitting .228, 1 HR & 5 RBI against left-handers–not exactly tearing it up.
LaHair’s not hitting left-handed pitching any better (.086, 1 HR & 1 RBI), and he never will without an opportunity to prove otherwise.
Cubs win 5-1 vs. Braves Monday night. That’s 3 wins in the last 4 games.
Since starting (3-11), the Cubs have won series against St. Louis & L.A., and split series vs. Philly & Cincinnati.
The Cardinals lead the Central division. The Reds are second. Los Angeles has the best record in the National League and the Braves lost for just the 8th time in the past 26 games.
What does it all mean? It means our woeful Cubbies are competitive, and may have a shot at reaching the .500 mark by June. Who would’ve thunk it?
Chris Volstad (0-4) continues to be consistently ineffective.
He was again haunted by the big inning on Saturday thanks to a two-run double by the opposing pitcher. I mean, that just can’t happen.
It’s been 17 consecutive starts since Volstad last won a big league outing. He’s taken a loss nine times with eight no decisions.
Travis Wood is replacing Garza on Sunday. If Wood pitches well, the Cubs might give some thought to replacing Volstad in the rotation.
It’s only been six starts, but Volstad hasn’t shown improvement. His ERA is above 6-runs and he’s yet to pitch past the sixth inning.
It’s a shame Bryan LaHair doesn’t qualify for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Once Major League players accumulate 130 at-bats or spend 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club they’re no longer considered rookies.
LaHair basically played just enough with Seattle in 2008 to extinguish his rookie status: 136 at-bats, 45 games played.
But it took LaHair another three season before he rejoined a big league roster, playing 20 games with Chicago last September.
For all intents and purposes, the guy’s still a rook, but it seems LaHair just can’t avoid the middle ground in his career.
Many view LaHair as a Four-A hitter. MLB views him as a veteran. What’s a guy to do?
So far, all LaHair’s done is hit. And when compared to the eligible National League Rookie of the Year candidates he’s unquestionably atop the list.
So what if the Cubs stole one Tuesday night. Back-to-back walkoffs against the Cardinals, I’ll take it.
The Cubs not only earned its first series win in 2012, but also ended St. Louis’ streak of 13-consecutive series wins dating back to last year, including the postseason.
However, Chicago got two very questionable calls from the umpiring crew to go in their favor: DeJesus’ slide home in the first inning and Campana’s steal in the 10th.
Had the umps made even one of the two calls correctly were probably left sulking over another Cubs loss and yet another solid start by Samardzija wasted due to a lack of run support. Water under the bridge this time…
How about Soriano hitting a low & away slider hard enough to drive in the game-winning run. Everyone watching knew what pitch was coming, but who knew Sori could actually hit it?
Bryan LaHair has put together two terrific at-bats in crucial situations the past two games: a 12-pitch walk on Monday and a game-tying home run Tuesday, which also marks his first hit against a left-hander this season.
I love this guy’s moxie. LaHair’s proving he’s not just a Triple-A phenom, but a true threat at the major league level. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if he can hit consistently for a full season.
The Cubs haven’t had a true leadoff threat atop the order since Juan Pierre in 2006, which is exactly why the Cubs went after David DeJesus this offseason.
Thus far DeJesus’ production has been steady. He’s reached base safely in 8 of 11 games while posting a respectable on-base percentage of .439.
He’s seen more pitches than any other Cubs batter (173), which hasn’t been the norm for a team expected to adopt a grind-it-out mentality.
DeJesus’ seven walks also leads the team, as does his eight runs scored. But that’s not all.
He’s played a terrific right field with several highlight reel catches already under his belt. I’ve also been impressed with his throwing arm, both strong and accurate.
No reason not to be pleased with the early returns for DeJesus. About the only thing he hasn’t done is steal many bases, so far 0-for-1.