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Now Who’s Out of the Cubs Starting Lineup?

By bullpenbrian - April 1, 2013 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

Darwin Barney

Name the Cubs opening day first baseman last year. Anthony Rizzo? Bryan LaHair? Nope, try Jeff Baker.

LaHair was a late scratch with a tight back (if I remember correctly). Baker stepped in nicely going 1-for-3 with a walk in the Cubs 2-1 loss vs. Washington.

Thankfully, however, LaHair was back playing the next game, albeit off the bench, and returned to the starting lineup by the third game of the season.

LaHair went 2-for-4 with two doubles in his first start to began his tear of batting .390, 5 HRs, 14 RBI during the month of April (a hot streak that essentially made LaHair an NL All-Star).

It appeared whatever back troubles LaHair suffered on opening day were minor, if that, and may have simply been the result of the cool weather at Wrigley Field during pregame warmups. Ultimately, it was no biggie.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Darwin Barney this year, who’s looking at a possible 15-day DL stint after suffering a knee injury during the Cubs final exhibition game on Saturday.

Barney, chasing down a popup, gashed his left knee to the bone after colliding with a concrete slab in foul territory. The cut required five stitches, and likely has Darwin out of game action for the next several days–at best.

So yeah, losing your Gold Glove second baseman right before opening day is definitely a biggie.

In the meantime, newcomer Brent Lillibridge will make today’s opening day start at second base in place of Barney. And if Darwin does, in fact, get placed on the DL, another journeyman, Alberto Gonzalez, 30, could also see playing time at second.

If we’re lucky Barney will be back soon, and possibly soon enough for us to forget 12 months from now he ever missed the 2013 lid lifter. Chances are, though, we won’t forget if Mr. Gold Glover starts the season on the DL.

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Darwin Barney ✔ Gold Glove

By bullpenbrian - October 31, 2012 - 3:30 pm 2 comments.

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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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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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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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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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Darwin Barney Sets NL Fielding Record

By bullpenbrian - September 10, 2012 - 2:30 am 2 comments.

How about a hat-tip to Darwin Barney for breaking Ryne Sandberg’s NL record 123-consecutive games errorless streak Saturday night at Pittsburgh.

The new record came and went without much fanfare, but there’s nothing cheap about Barney’s streak. He’s been the best fielding second baseman in the NL this season while showing he’s not just Gold Glove worthy, but the clear-cut winner.

The streak is but one example of how far Barney has come as a defender since arriving with the Cubs in 2010. Having already matched his games played at second base from a season ago (135), Barney has 11 fewer errors, turned 17 more double plays and improved his Range Factor from 4.92 to 5.15.

He played another clean game on Sunday continuing his streak to 125-consecutive games without an error–a run which began in mid-April and has spanned more than 1,000 innings. And with 22-games remaining this season, it’s still possible Barney could surpass Placido Polanco’s major league record of 141-straight games without an error at second base.

The bat, of course, hasn’t been as consistent for Barney. But given his encouraging work ethic to improve his fielding, there’s hope he’ll eventually come around at the plate, too.

Not everyone agrees Darwin will remain a staple of the Cubs’ rebuild, and that might remain true. Team Theo, after all, did explore dealing him at the July 31 trade deadline.

But even if Barney only improves marginally on offense, it’s still hard to depart from a solid Gold Glove defender up the middle, especially considering the Cubs’ thin pitching staff heading into 2013.

Additionally, Barney turns 27 in November beginning his prime years as a ballplayer. He’s shown not only the ability to improve his game at the highest level, but has done so while maintaining his high-character and winning attitude on a dreadful team, no less.

There’s simply a lot to like about this kid. And while he may not have been the answer Cubs fans were looking for at second base this spring, there’s really no reason to think he won’t be the answer moving forward.

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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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Will Darwin Barney Win The Gold Glove?

By bullpenbrian - August 30, 2012 - 3:45 am 6 comments.

The hardest part of a player winning the Gold Glove Award seems to have less to do with his actual fielding statistics than it does convincing the voters he’s more deserving than the incumbent.

Historically, at least, that’s been the pattern of the voters, comprised of the league’s managers and coaches who, more often than not, are comfortable sticking with past award winners in favor of crowning a new one Gold Glove worthy.

That’s why Brandon Phillips, the 2011 NL Gold Glove Award winner at second base, is the only thing standing in the way of Darwin Barney winning his first, and much deserved, Rawlings Gold Glove Award this season (I’ll touch on the statistical comparison a bit later).

Now, that’s not to say Phillips or any Gold Glove winners of the past shouldn’t have won in consecutive seasons. But in researching the history of Gold Glove Award winners I confirmed it’s nearly a given that once a player wins gold, he’ll almost certainly win it again.

In Barney’s case, I researched the Gold Glove Award winners at second base dating back to 1973 when Joe Morgan won his first of five consecutive Gold Gloves.

Davey Lopes eventually snatched the award away from Morgan in 1978 only to be outdone by Manny Trillo the following season, who in turn won the award in three out of the next four seasons.

In 1983 it was Ryno’s turn. He won nine consecutive Gold Gloves before Jose Lind broke the streak in 1992.

Robby Thompson earned the honors in 1993, then Craig Biggio arrived to win four consecutive Gold Gloves.

Bret Boone stole the award away from Biggio in 1998, then relented to Pokey Reese in 1999, who won again in 2000.

In 2001 Fernando Vina won his first of two consecutive Gold Gloves. Louis Castillo followed by winning three straight.

Orlando Hudson earned the glove in 2006, and again in three out of the next four seasons. His run was interrupted by none other than, Brandon Phillips, who won in 2008.

Phillips has since won the Gold Glove in three out of the last four seasons, including the last two years. The only player to break his run? Not surprisingly, the O-Dog in 2009.

The repetitive pattern is obviously a concern in Barney’s case, even though statistically he’s outperformed all National League second baseman, and most notably, Brandon Phillips.

Darwin, when compared to Phillips, has played in five more games, has had 61 more total chances, made 51 more put-outs, has more assists and committed three fewer errors (1) than Phillips (4).

Barney’s .998 fielding percentage is also tops in the National League, as is his 4.67 Range Factor. Highlight-reel plays? He has those, too.

What more do the managers and coaches need to see? And what more could Barney possibly do statistically to win gold–other than having won the award last year?

It’s a crime if Barney doesn’t take home the award this season. He is, by all accounts, most deserving.

But, if he does win…well, chances are he’s likely on his way to winning the first of many more Gold Gloves to come.

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