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Whatever Geovany Soto wants to prove is long overdue

By bullpenbrian - March 5, 2013 - 10:45 am Leave a comment.

Geovany Soto

Geovany Soto says he has something to prove this year. I feel he’s had something to prove ever since flopping after his terrific rookie season in 2008.

That was already five years ago, and the only thing Soto’s proven since is that he’s an incomplete, inconsistent player. Occasionally we might see a glimpse of ‘rookie Geo’, but mostly Soto’s progressively struggled through his prime years. Good year, bad year…meh.

Who knows what Soto’s really trying to prove this season. That he can be a starter again, that more fringe seasons are left in the tank, or that he can live up to the expectations that followed him since winning the Rookie of the Year Award?

“I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain and I want to prove to myself and prove to the Texas Rangers that I am an All-Star caliber catcher and helps us reach the World Series.”
-Soto on ESPNDallas.com

Sometimes I feel the game came too easily for Soto upon his arrival with the Cubs in late 2007, a season in which he quickly earned the trust of Sweet Lou, so much so that he started Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Arizona. Then came his fabulous rookie campaign: 

-First rookie backstop ever selected to start the All-Star Game.
-Hit two 3-R HRs against Milwaukee in one game.
-Inside-the-park HR at Houston.
-A 7 RBI game against Pittsburgh.
-Caught Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter vs. Houston (in Milwaukee of course).
-Won the Pedrin Zorrilla Award (given to the most outstanding Puerto Rican player in the Major Leagues).
-
Won the Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide.
-Finished 13th in the MVP voting.

The big leagues must have felt like easy money for Soto. He not only made the Show but he also made a name for himself, and worse, there was zero competition standing in his way for the starting job the next season.

Maybe it was the lack of competition that led Soto to show up at spring training overweight and out of shape in 2009? Had human nature won the best of him? Was Soto content letting the 2008 season do his talking for him, perhaps thinking there was nothing else to prove?

I didn’t think so, at least not right away. Sure, I’d concede Soto was showing some immaturity, but there’s no reason he wouldn’t bounce back, right? Well, wrong.

Soto, it seemed, just couldn’t get out of his own way. Soon thereafter he made the decision to skip working out with the Cubs in favor of joining team Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic–a decision that wouldn’t have made such a stink if he had actually been playing. Instead, Soto was used sparingly, sitting behind Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez.

By the end of spring training Soto was suffering from a sore right shoulder, an injury that would noticeably limit his throwing ability in the early part of the season. And by the end of April Soto was hitting .109/.268/.130. Perhaps a coincidence, but Soto’s perceived lack of baseball activity in the spring combined with his wretched start to the season appeared to go hand-in-hand.

But the real kicker came in June when MLB announced Soto had tested positive for marijuana during the WBC. Not normally a story worthy of overreaction–a ballplayer smoking it up in his mid 20s–but now something was becoming clear despite Soto’s foggy judgment–he was nowhere close to being fully committed to baseball.

Of course the 2009 season was a total drag for Soto–a flop-job in the wake of all the awards from the year prior. Granted, he briefly restored faith the following offseason by shedding a ton of weight and showing up to camp in tip-top shape, but it didn’t last.

Soto stayed inconsistent throughout his Cubs career fluctuating between good and bad seasons. He never came close to the player many Cubs fans, including myself, thought he would be following his rookie season.

“I can do it [improve offensively], but I think in the past I haven’t worked on my swing in the off-season the way I should have,”  said Soto to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald.

What Soto thinks he should’ve been doing is unknown. It may mean he should’ve been working on different hitting exercises, or maybe it’s code for he simply wasn’t working at all during the offseason.

It wouldn’t be fair to accuse him of the later without knowing for certain, but it’s hard not to wonder if Soto cheated himself and the Cubs of reaching his once sky-high potential?

I doubt Soto will prove anything this season given his past performance. And unfortunately, whatever Soto is looking to prove, whether it be to fans, to baseball, or to himself…it all should have happened years ago.

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Name That Cub!

By bullpenbrian - March 4, 2013 - 12:00 pm 2 comments.

CT CityHall2.JPG
Born in Venezuela.
Entering his 16th season in MLB.
Spent only one season in American League.
Longest stay with one team is 4 seasons with Cubs.
Personal catcher for Greg Maddux in Atlanta.
.994 fielding % ranks 15th all-time among MLB backstops.
Name that Cub! (Answer after the jump)

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Cubs Loving The Left-Handed Hitter

By bullpenbrian - March 4, 2013 - 9:00 am 4 comments.

Anthony Rizzo

*Post updated on March 13, 2013

Something caught my attention last week while researching the oldest and youngest players on the Cubs’ roster.

While learning the Cubs have the fifth youngest roster in the majors, I also discovered they’re tied with Miami for having the most left-handed batters on a roster (9). (Things have apparently come a long way since Jim Hendry felt desperate enough to sign Milton Bradley in 2009.)

Moving on, (9) is a rough figure depending on which roster source you’re viewing. Some, for example, list Adrian Cardenas, who’s no longer playing for the Cubs. Brian Bogusevic is another example; a left-handed batter who may, or may not, make the team out of spring training. And, the number changes depending on whether or not left-handed batting pitchers are included.

Nonetheless, here’s a combination list of the Cubs’ left-handed bats heading into 2013:

40-MAN ROSTER – 8 or 13 including pitchers

-Steve Clevenger
-Anthony Rizzo
-Ian Stewart
-Luis Valbuena
-Logan Watkins
-David DeJesus
-Brett Jackson
-Nate Schierholtz

Pitchers

-Scott Feldman
-Kyuji Fujikawa
-Brooks Raley
-Chris Rusin
-James Russell
*(Travis Wood bats right-handed)

Others (minor league or non-roster spring training invites)
(*) indicates pitcher

-Brian Bogusevic
*Hisanori Takahasshi
*Casey Coleman
*Dontrelle Willis

Minor League Totals (LHB currently listed on Cubs minor league rosters)

-18 left-handed batters total including Triple-A through Single-A rosters

As for switch-hitters, the Cubs have two of note: catcher Dioner Navarro and pitcher Lendy Castillo. Cleveland and San Francisco are tied for the most switch-hitters with (6).

In the Cubs minor league system (Triple-A through Single-A) there are 10 switch-hitting batters.

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Money Ball–Cubs’ Odds of Winning World Series

By bullpenbrian - March 4, 2013 - 8:00 am Leave a comment.

Money Baseball

One way of judging the offseason of all MLB teams is to look at what the odds makers are saying, such as online sports betting at Top Bet. For World Series odds I’m finding it universal the Astros (200-1) are lest likely to win a ring while Toronto (7-1) is the favorite (Cubs are coming in at 100-1).

Houston is obvious of course, but granted Toronto made hay this winter (namely their blockbuster pillaging of Miami), they’re still in a tough division against New York, Baltimore and Tampa Bay–even the Red Sox should be more competitive than last season.

Meanwhile, the Nationals, Giants, Angels, Tigers and Dodgers are typically rounding out the top picks, while the Marlins, Rockies and Cubs are rounding out the bottom feeders. For wild cards I’d throw in the never-say-die Cardinals and the good but not great Rangers.

I was also looking at the over/under for total regular season wins. The Cubs are listed at 73, which falls in line with my prognostication of a (72-90) win season for Chicago. I say this because my gut feeling is Team Theo will use the July trade deadline much as they they did last year–trading away ageing and more expensive veterans for younger prospects–which ultimately set the Cubs on pace for 101-losses.  

Although this summer appears to be a lesson in enjoying Cubs baseball for what it’s worth–another year closer to completing the rebuild–at least we know the odds of winning should get much, much greater for Chicago in the coming seasons.

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Cubs Confirm What We Expected Weeks Ago—Garza Far From Ready

By bullpenbrian - March 3, 2013 - 12:45 pm Leave a comment.

Garza ST

If you haven’t learned already, lat injuries linger, and usually much longer than players, coaches and fans think they will.

Remember waiting for Ryan Dempster’s return near the trade deadline last season? Yep, that was a lat injury.

So when Garza experienced discomfort throwing on Feb. 17 and was diagnosed with a sore left lat muscle, I pretty much ruled him out for opening day, despite the fact the Cubs were suggesting Garza would be out only one week.

Now, two weeks later, Garza still isn’t ready. The Cubs say they’re shutting him down another week…and he’ll likely miss the first month of the season. A big, big, disappointment for sure. But it’s hardly a surprise.

The Cubs must be cautious with Garza, especially if they still have visions of trading him, which can’t happen until he’s healthy. And if the Cubs are leaning towards signing Garza long-term, they’ll need to see for themselves that he can stay healthy.

Either way, those decisions are a long way off…even if Garza’s recovery doesn’t experience further setbacks.
***
Thumbnail sketch of Cubs’ spring training thus far.
Overall 4-4, Home: 3-2, Away: 1-2.
Cubs have lost 3 of last 4 games.
Couple of split squad games scheduled for this week.
Anthony Rizzo departs Cubs camp tomorrow to join Team Italy for WBC.

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Listen to Vin Scully call Cubs vs. Dodgers game from 1957

By bullpenbrian - March 1, 2013 - 4:00 am 1 comment.

Vin Scully

I could hardly wait to share the gem I discovered this week at archive.org. Available under ‘Old Time Radio Programs’ is a free download of a radio broadcast between the Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on
June 4, 1957.

You can listen to the game by clicking here.

The download is of the Dodgers’ broadcast and begins with Jerry Doggett, the radio man who joined the Dodgers’ booth in 1956 (and stayed with the team until 1987).

At the 7:00 mark Doggett turns the duties over to his long-time partner, and legendary play-by-play man, Vin Scully, who began his accomplished career with the Dodgers in 1950 (unbelievable!).

I was giddy with excitement to hear Scully’s voice crackle through the speakers, and he begins by informing the audience he’s just spilled a cup of coffee in his lap, and on a suite fresh from the cleaners no less!

On this Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs (who would go on to lose 92 games that year) fell to the Dodgers 7-5. The starting pitching matchup featured two players with ties to the Queen City. Cubs starter Dick Drott, a Cincinnati native, against a 21-year-old left-hander from the University of Cincinnati named Sandy Koufax. That, however, is where the similarities ended.

It didn’t take long for Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella to open up the scoring. Campanella, who would leave the game in the third inning after being plunked in the ribs by a pitch (which we’re later informed during the broadcast the team doctor says the catcher is ‘ok’), doubled home Snider and Hodges in the bottom of the first. The Dodgers plated another run in the inning and then scored three more runs in the third, including a solo HR by Snider, to knock Drott out of the game.

Hodges went deep in the fifth extending Brooklyn’s lead to 7-0 after five innings. The Cubs finally broke through against Koufax in the sixth on a line drive, 2-R HR by left fielder Bob Speake. Ernie Banks (.285, 43 HR, 102 RBI), now in his fifth season with Chicago, turned the trick two innings later taking Koufax deep for a 3-R HR, which concluded the scoring for the afternoon.

Koufax (4-2) earned the win lasting 7.2 innings allowing 5-ER on 4 hits. He walked 5 and struck out 12, fanning Banks in his first two at-bats. The eventual Hall of Fame pitcher, who started just 13 games in this season, finished the campaign (5-4, 3.88). Four years later he blossomed into one of the most dominating left-handed pitchers of all time.

The 1957 season was the Dodgers’ (84-70) final chapter in Brooklyn. Ebbets Field closed in Sept. after the season ended and was later demolished in 1960. And for those of you wondering, Jackie Robinson had already retired the year prior in 1956.

I wasn’t able to catch the entire broadcast, which lasts 3 hours & 2 minutes, and is why I included the game recap so you can skip along to hear some of the more exciting game action (the advertisement are a treat to listen to as well).

But whatever time you do have available, it’s well worth the listen, even though the Cubs lost. But, we’re use to that by now anyway.

Ebbets Field

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Wrigley Field Bleacher Renovations 1925-26

By bullpenbrian - March 1, 2013 - 2:00 am 2 comments.

“There are millions of Cubs fans who did not grow up in Chicago. Why? It’s Wrigley Field. You see that great old ballpark on television–the ivy on the walls, the people on the rooftops, the bleacher bums, the old stadium–and it’s everything you ever dreamed baseball could be.” -Randy Hundley, former Cub

In 1925 more renovations took place at Cubs Park (Wrigley Field).
The left field wall was moved back at the request of the Cubs’ pitching staff.
This mid-season change created the ‘jury box’ look, still present to this day.
In 1926 Cubs owner William Wrigley attached his name to the ballpark.
Shortly after he began the construction of upper deck seating.
Wrigley hired the architecture firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.
The same firm which designed the Merchandise Mart and the Wrigley Building.
* Photo: Temporary bleachers over Waveland Ave for the 1929 World Series.

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D-backs proudly display lineup card from 2005 season opening 16-6 loss vs. Cubs

By bullpenbrian - February 28, 2013 - 3:05 pm Leave a comment.

Diamondbacks opening day lineup 2005

I stumbled across this picture on the blog Old Time Family Baseball. The writer, Michael Clair, is a finalist to join the MLB Fan Cave for the upcoming season.

He recently snapped the photo while on a tour of Chase Field in Arizona. Not entirely sure why this particular lineup card is on display at the ballpark–the Cubs won the 2005 season opener 16-6 vs. the Diamondbacks.

Nonetheless, there are some former Cubs ties with players Luis Gonzalez (1995-96), Chad Tracy (2010) and Koyie Hill (2007-12).

As for the game, the Cubs scored in 7 of 9 frames, mashing the D-backs’ pitching for 23 hits. Starter Javier Vazquez was lit up allowing 7-ER on 10-H in 1.2 innings.

Derrek Lee (who would go on to have the best all-around season of his career winning the National League batting title (.335), a Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove while finishing third in MVP voting), went 4-for-6 with a HR and five RBI.

Aramis Ramirez went 3-for-4, including a HR, 4 RBI and 4 runs scored. Jeromy Burnitz had 3 hits and Nomar Garciaparra added 2 hits and 3 RBI. Even Corey Patterson had a big day going 3-for-5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.

Carlos Zambrano started for the Cubs, but lasted only 4.2 innings allowing 3 runs on 7 hits with 4 walks and 8 strikeouts. Glendon Rusch took over in the fifth, pitched 2.1 innings allowing 2 runs, and earned the win.

Despite a promising start, the Cubs lost the next three games and hovered around .500 until the beginning of May, when they suffered a 7-game losing streak. A few weeks later the Cubs bounced back winning 7 straight to jump above .500, but the success was short lived.

The Cubs thereafter experienced two 8-games losing skids, one in July the other in August, that wipe the team out of postseason contention. They finished the campaign (79-83) under Dusty Baker, then in his third season as Chicago’s manager (sad trombone).

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MLB Spring Training Locations On Google Maps

By bullpenbrian - February 28, 2013 - 11:45 am Leave a comment.

Here’s a look at spring training locations for all 30 teams in MLB.
Each Google map is interactive by clicking this link to
MLB.com.

Cactus League 2013

Grapefruit League 2013

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Wrigley Field A Staple of Iconic Sports Stadiums

By bullpenbrian - February 27, 2013 - 10:25 am Leave a comment.

Wrigley Field
Freelance writer Erica Walsh wrote an article featuring three iconic stadiums sports fans should consider visiting.

 

Wrigley Field makes her list as well as Boise State University’s Bronco Field (where my Ohio Bobcats rallied from 13 points down to defeat Utah State 24-23 in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl!) and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Erica Walsh comes from a family that is dedicated to playing and watching sports. She was a sports reporter for a local paper until she decided to freelance, and she’s so glad that she did.

Wrigley Field, Chicago

One of the most iconic stadiums in the country, the Chicago Cubshome field is not just a ball park but "It’s a Way of Life." Major League Baseball’s website provides details of its rich history. Nicknamed the Friendly Confines, you will recognize the stadium because of its lush ivy-covered brick outfield wall and hand-turned scoreboard. The red marquee over the entrance has been a popular image in the eyes of young and old, women and men.

  • Built in 1914, it’s the second oldest baseball park in the country (first is Fenway Park in Boston)
  • It was named after chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, Jr., who was the team owner in the 20s
  • From 1921-1970, Wrigley Field was the NFL Chicago Bears’ stadium, as well
  • Famous Cubs players: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Andre Dawson

Wrigley Field | Cubs Win

Bronco Stadium, Boise State University

In 1986, Boise State covered their regular old field with a very blue artificial surface (Astro Turf), creating a challenge to opposing teams, according to BroncoSports.com. Could the field be the reason the Bronco’s home record is 87-4 since the 1999 season? The team had an unbelievable 65 home game winning streak until beaten one time in 2011 by TCU.  Also, whenever you’re in the home of the Bronco’s, it’s easy to rent one of many Boise apartments for your stay while you enjoy the big game and beauty of the outdoors through hiking, horseback riding and river activities.

  • Notable players currently in the NFL: Doug Martin — RB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Shea McClellin — DE (Chicago Bears), Chris Carr — CB (San Diego Chargers)
  • "The Blue" added 3,500 seats in the summer of 2012 in a recent expansion raising the capacity to 37,000 total seating capacity and costing over $13.5K, reported by BroncoSports.com
  • Appropriately home to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, "Ray Jay" is large enough to house 75,000 people for special events like NCAA bowl games, grand-scale concerts, USA equestrian show jumping and monster truck jams. Erected in 1996 and opened in 1998, the stadium has already been the site of two Super Bowls due to the city’s fair winter temperatures and overall attraction to visitors. Because Tampa sits near the Gulf of Mexico, there are endless entertainment opportunities. With the bustling downtown area of Ybor City as well as St. Pete and Clearwater beaches just over the bridge, it’s a great city to visit and live. RaymondJamesStadium.com offers some of the stadium’s highlights:

  • Features a 103-foot, 43-ton replica buccaneer pirate ship. It has all the bells and whistles and cannons that fire soft-rubber footballs and confetti, as well as hoisting flags. It has a remote-controlled talking parrot and when fans hear the song, "Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)," people onboard the huge steel and concrete ship deck throw beads and t-shirts.
  • Stadium has some of the largest video displays in the league at 92-feet wide.
  • Patrons can find concessions and restrooms in Buccaneer Cove, a weathered fishing village facade that is two-stories high.
  • The stadium was publicly funded and built with $168.5 million.

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