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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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BJax, LaHair & Cards Notes

By bullpenbrian - September 21, 2012 - 9:00 am Leave a comment.

The Cubs (58-92) have 12-games remaining this season beginning with a three-game home series against the Cardinals this afternoon at 1:20pm.

Chicago needs five more wins to avoid a 100-loss season, and just one more victory to avoid matching the franchise-worst mark of 103-losses (surely that will happen, yes?)

K ZONE: Brett Jackson struck out in his only at-bat yesterday giving him 54-punchouts on the season. Through 37-games he’s struck out at least once in all but five-games. His strikeout rate through 126 plate appearances is a whopping 43-percent. Not good.

It’s also been a difficult stretch for BJax lately. He’ managed just two hits in his last 33 at-bats…walking 5 times with 17 Ks. Slash line: .063/.189/.094.

TALE OF TWO SEASONS: Bryan LaHair before the All Star break: 14 HR, 30 RBI, .286/.364/.519…74-games. After the All Star break: 1 HR, 5 RBI, .188/.264/.271…45-games.

GOLD GLOVE: Darwin Barney’s errorless streak at second base has reached 135-consecutive games. Pretty awesome. But, any idea who holds the record for most consecutive games without an error at the catcher’s position?

It’s St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, a four-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner who set the major league record of 252-consecutive games at catcher without committing a single miscue. Wow.

THE INDESTRUCTABLE MAN: The last time Chris Carpenter toed the rubber was last fall in Game 7 of the World Series. He pitched six innings and earned the win against the Rangers.

This afternoon Carpenter makes his season debut at Wrigley Field after missing the first 150-games of the season with a sore shoulder.

It seems his National League leading 34-starts and 237.1 innings pitched, in addition to the playoffs, finally took its toll on Carpenter who sat out the the entire first half of the season before succumbing to neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery (sore right shoulder) on July 19.

If healthy, however, the Cards add a real difference-maker to its rotation to make another October run. And there’s probably not a better place for Carpenter to make his comeback other than Wrigley Field where his 11-wins since 2004 are the most against the Cubbies.

Similar to the Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired after 20-seasons in the NHL, I’ll be thrilled when Carpenter, 37, finally walks away, too. Those are two guys the Blackhawks and Cubs can do without. With all due respect, good riddance.

FIRST TIME FIVE: For the first time in Cardinals’ history the club has five players with 20 or more home runs: Beltran (29), Holliday (27), Craig (22), Molina (20), Freese (20). The 2008 season was the last time St. Louis had four players turn the trick: Pujols (37), Ludwick (37), Glaus (27), Ankiel (25).

The Cubs have one player with 20-plus HR: Alfonso Soriano (30)…next closest is Bryan LaHair (15), Rizzo (14) and Castro (13).

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What To Expect In NL Central Postseason Race

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

Here’s a quick overview of the National League Central’s postseason race as we’ve reached the final month of the regular season…

The Reds’ Magic Number is (18), the lowest of any division leader in baseball. They lead the Cardinals by 8.5 games and stand to win the division running away.

Cincy’s starting pitching has been incredibly durable this year, but it’s the lights-out bullpen that’s the difference-maker.

Marshall to Broxton to Chapman is as close as it gets to a sure victory with a late-inning lead, and the Cuban Missile has found his groove having converted his last 27 save chances–a franchise record.

There’s also plenty of offensive fire-power to go along with the pitching, as evidence by the club’s (32-16) record during the absence of Joey Votto, who was activated yesterday but did not play.

I’ve been on the record since spring training with Cincinnati as my favorite to win the division. Now I’m on the record as saying they’re my favorite to win it all in the National League this October.

Either way, there’s no ignoring the job Dusty Baker’s done in Cincinnati, which could earn him the NL Manager of the Year Award.

RED BIRDS

As much as I’d enjoy writing the Cardinals will miss the postseason, I still think they’ll earn a wild card.

While there’s little chance St. Louis catches the Reds, they do lead the NL in runs scored and the starting staff is plenty strong to hold off the wild card competition.

There’s also building speculation the seemingly indestructible Chris Carpenter will return to the rotation before season’s end.

Who knows how effective he’ll be after returning from a procedure to relieve his thoracic outlet syndrome (numbness), but it could be a key ingredient to securing a playoff spot if he’s indeed healthy down the stretch.

Per the usual, however, the Cardinals just win, always finding a way when there’s no clear path.

PEG LEGS

The Pirates’ listless second half continues. Although the Bucs are a mere 1.0 game out of the wild card, I’ve anticipated for weeks their season was about to get worse before it got better.

Those feeling have proven true with the Buccos relinquishing a 3.5 games lead in the wild card after posting a (7-17) record since August 9th.

The starting rotation is looking more tattered and thinned by the game. James McDonald has struggled with consistency after a brilliant first half. Wandy Rodriguez (3-4), acquired at the trade deadline, has basically been a bust. AJ Burnett (15-5) remains the lone bright spot on a starting staff that has allowed only seven fewer runs than the Cubs.

Only the Reds and Braves, however, have a stronger bullpen than Pittsburgh’s. But a faulty rotation has led to the pen’s overuse since the trade deadline, and it shows with the Pirates having allowed the most runs in August of any contender.

Pitching isn’t the only hole on this sinking ship; Pittsburgh is 11th in runs scored since the All Star break—not nearly good enough to keep up with the big boys in September.

That issue could have been resolved at the trading deadline, but Pittsburgh simply failed to add the offensive boost is so desperately needed to stay in contention.

The organization’s unwillingness to move prospects via trade is likely to pay off as early as next season, but it killed any momentum they had entering August.

With each passing week it becomes more clear how much the Pirates overachieved in the first half of the season when they led the division at the All Star break.

But this early feel-good story has become eerily similar to the club’s second half collapse last season when the Pirates led the division 100-games in only to finish with a 90-loss record.

A demise to such depths won’t happen this year (there’s only 37-games remaining), but I feel confident the Buccos (71-64) will eventually end up below the .500 mark for a saddening 20th consecutive year.

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Cubs Reported Time Of Death: 7th Inning

By bullpenbrian - July 22, 2012 - 3:30 am 4 comments.

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Dale Sveum Knows Better

By bullpenbrian - May 16, 2012 - 2:00 am 4 comments.

I’ve had few frustrations with Dale Sveum through the first 36 games.

For the most part he’s pressing the right buttons, has the team hustling and seems to be getting the most from a team struggling to be relevant in the standings (15-21).

However, Sveums insistence on pitching to Yadier Molina, instead of around him, continues to pain me.

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This Guy’s A Cubs Killer

By bullpenbrian - May 15, 2012 - 2:15 pm 1 comment.

In this installment of ‘Name that Molina’ I’m talking about Bengie, Jose, Yadier Molina, the Cubs killer who’s a lifetime .281 hitter with 9 HR and 48 RBI through 101 games vs. Chicago.

This year alone he’s batting .346 with 1 HR & 9 RBI against the Cubs. Certainly numbers the Chicago coaching staff are aware of.

But with all due respect to Sveum and his staff, I don’t understand why the Cubs keep pitching to Molina, especially in clutch hitting situations?

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Winless Dempster Still Money

By bullpenbrian - May 15, 2012 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

Ryan Dempster staked to a 4-0 lead through five innings felt like money in the bank. Who wouldn’t bet he’d get that elusive first win?

Demps was cruising along needing just 27 pitches to retire 10 of 11 Cardinal batters from the second through fifth innings.

It was all the makings of a streak buster, a winless drought spanning 14 starts (now 15) without Dempster (0-1) earning a victory.

Go figure he’d allow four runs an inning later and leave his 300th career start with a no-decision.

All things considered, it was another strong start from the right-hander whose ERA jumped from 1.02 to 1.74. I mean, seriously. 1.74!

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Cubs Déjà vu All Over Again!

By bullpenbrian - April 25, 2012 - 1:10 am Leave a comment.

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.

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Cubs Poll – 2012 Schedule

By bullpenbrian - January 27, 2012 - 12:01 pm Leave a comment.
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Offseason Activity In The NL Central

By bullpenbrian - January 3, 2012 - 2:01 am Leave a comment.

Chicago

  • Arrivals:
    3B Ian Stewart (trade with Rockies)
    RF David DeJesus (free agent from A’s)
    LHP Travis Wood (trade with Reds) & OF Dave Sappelt (trade with Reds)
  • Gone Fishing:
    Sean Marshall (traded to Reds)
    Tyler Colvin (traded to Rockies)
    DJ LeMahieu (traded to Rockies)
    Aramis Ramirez (free agent, signed with Brewers)
    John Grabow (free agent, signed with Dodgers)
    *Carlos Pena? (unsigned free agent)
    *Kerry Wood? (unsigned free agent)
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