Cubs Lose Jake Arrieta’s Start

The Chicago Cubs finished their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 2nd. The Cubs won three out of the four games against the Dodgers, but failed to take advantage of a Jake Arietta start in their one loss. Arrieta went seven innings giving up no runs.

The Cubs lost the game in the last two innings. After seven innings, the game was scoreless, but two runs were scored off pitcher Clayton Richard in the eighth and three runs were scored off pitcher Adam Warren in the ninth.  The Cubs lost 5-0.

The last time the Cubs lost a game when Jake Arrieta started a game was in July of 2015. The game was officially a no-decision for Arrieta so it didn’t affect his win-loss record.

On June 5th, however, The Arizona Diamondbacks managed to put up three runs on Arrieta. The Cubs offense only managed to put up two runs in that game. The final score was 3-2, giving Arrieta his first loss in eleven months.

Best Rotation in the MLB?

As of June 4th, the five starters of the Cubs rotation all have an ERA under three. John Lackey has a 2.88 ERA, which is the best among starters. The average ERA of the five starters is 2.55, the best statistically in the MLB as of June 4th.

Hot Streak

The Cubs have won ten of their last twelve games as of June 5th. This comes after the Cubs had lost eight of twelve at one point in May. The Cubs are hitting especially well in their current stretch.

The home run ball has especially helped the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo hit one out to right field on the on June 4th and Kris Bryant has hit 400-foot home runs on consecutive days this past week. Dexter Fowler recently hit his 3rd leadoff home run.

Fowler has been especially good against opposing fastballs. According to an infographic posted on Inside Edge’s twitter account, Fowler has a .405 batting average when a fastball is thrown to him. Five of his home runs have also come off fastballs.

Looking for Relievers?

According an article published by ESPN’s MLB Rumor Central, the Cubs are possibly looking for a lefty reliever on the trade market. The news come in the wake of Clayton Richard’s struggles. Richard has an 8.00 ERA in sixteen appearances as of June 3rd.

The article specifically mentions Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees as trade targets for the Cubs. The Cubs have recently done business with the Yankees, trading Starlin Castro this past winter. The Cubs got Adam Warren in return, who has a 2.75 ERA as of June 5th.

Will the Yankees will be willing to trade one of their relievers? It is not guaranteed. The Yankees are currently six games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but could improve their standing as the summer goes on. It is too early in the year for the Yankees to give up hope on the postseason.

Chicago Cubs Pull Out of Recent Slump

 

The Chicago Cubs have won three straight games as of May 27th. The Cubs beat their NL Central rivals the St. Louis Cardinals in the last two games of that series and won the series opener of against the Philadelphia Phillies on the 27th.

In their series opening win against the Phillies, the Cubs rested Anthony Rizzo and put Kris Bryant in his spot at first base. It was an unusual sight, as Bryant usually plays third base. This is the first time all season that Anthony Rizzo has not played a game for the Cubs.

The Cubs were also beneficiaries of well-timed home runs. Jorge Soler hit a 461-foot bomb that bounced off the Cubs Video Board in left field during the 4th inning. David Ross also hit a home run in the fourth inning. The home run hit by Ross was his 100th career homer.

Also helping the Cubs in their last few games was the return of outfielder Jason Heyward. He was injured during the series against the San Francisco Giants. He was only out for a few days and managed to return in time to play the Cardinals, his former team.

Prior to their current win streak, the Cubs had lost eight of their last twelve games. In that stretch, the Cubs lost games to teams that rank in the bottom half of the league. The Cubs dropped two games to the San Diego Padres and two games to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Despite that rough patch, the Cubs are still listed first in the weekly ESPN power rankings. The Cubs also still have the best record in the MLB. Every team has its slumps and the Cubs seem to have pulled out of theirs.

Going Forward

After their series with the Phillies, the Cubs will start the month of June at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are 25-24 as of May 27th. After that, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 3rd before traveling on Philadelphia to play the Phillies again on June 6th.

The Cubs a very favorable stretch of games coming up in the next week and a half. The Dodgers are their most difficult opponents and the Cubs will play at home until June 6th.  The Cubs should be able to take most of their games in that stretch.

Starting June 13th, however, the competition heats up. The Cubs travel to Washington D.C. to play the Nationals and then come home to play the Pittsburg Pirates on June 17th and the St. Louis Cardinals on June 20th.

The Cubs have a 4.5 game lead over the Pirates after their series opening win against the Phillies on May 27th. Prior to their slump, the Cubs had an even bigger lead in the NL Central. Depending on how the Cubs do over the next few series, the division could have a new leader by the time the Pirates and Cubs meet.

The Pirates are no joke and despite the recent dominance the Cubs have had over them, it is still early in the season. Anyone could come out on top of the division. No one expects the Cubs to tank, not with all the talent they have on their roster, but it is still possible.

 

 

 

Chicago Cubs Early Season Recap

The Cubs are now 25 games into their regular season and with their most recent win, a 7-1 win over the Pittsburg Pirates, have improved their overall record to 19-6 which is still good enough for best in the Major League.

Once again showing his magic on the mound was Jake Arrieta. Pitching seven shutout innings and allowing only two hits against the Pirates, Arrieta once again dominated. This has become the norm for Arrieta even against superb competition like the Pirates who are the 5th best team in ESPN’s most recent power rankings.

It’s not just Arrieta that’s having a great season so far. Several Cubs players have contributed to the team’s success.

 

Pitching

The Cubs rotation is among the best in the league. Lead by Cy Young Winning Pitcher Jake Arrieta, Cubs starters have a combined 16-4 record. After their win against the Pirates on May 3rd, Arrieta now leads the league in wins for a starting pitcher along with Chicago White Sox’s Pitcher Chris Sale.

In addition to Arrieta, starters Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have an era below 2.00. Only John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks have ERAs above that mark, 4.32 and 3.52 respectively. Hendricks is the only Cubs’s starter with a losing record at 1-2.

The relievers are also performing at high level. Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Travis Wood, and Adam Warren have ERAs below 2.00. Trevor Cahill, who helped seal the victory against the Pirates has a 3.86 ERA.

The only Cubs pitcher with an ERA above 5.00 is Clayton Richard at 6.75.

 

Offense

The Cubs are loaded with offensive talent. Dexter Fowler is currently leading the regular starters with a .352 average, 31 hits, and a .473 on base percentage. Given a one-year deal in the offseason after searching for a long term deal in the open market, Fowler is proving his worth.

Anthony Rizzo normally has a higher average than his current .242, but he now has sole possession of 1st place in the RBI standings with 26. Rizzo also leads the team in home runs with 8.

Former Rookie of the year Kris Bryant is hitting above .300 again after Tuesday’s game. He also has 17 RBIs and I second on the team in hits at 29.

Free agent acquisitions Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist are hitting .211 and .253 respectively. While Heyward is not performing poorly, his number are down from last season’s career highs with the Cardinals.

 

Coaching

Not much needs to be said here. Joe Maddon is one of the best coaches in baseball and was the National League Coach of the year in 2015.

 

Fielding

Out of 27 qualifying players, 18 Cubs’ fielders have a 1.000 fielding percentage, and another 5 have at least a .900 average. Only Adam Warren hasa fielding average below .700.

 

Injuries

In the third game of the year, the Cubs lost outfielder and catcher Kyle Schwarber to a season ending leg injury. Since then the Cubs have not missed a beat and continue to be a powerhouse without the young phenom.

More recently, Jason Heyward is dealing with a wrist injury. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs are hopeful that Heyward can be back in the lineup Wednesday May 4th in the series finale against the Pirates.

Matt Szczur is also injuried. Gonzles is reporting that Szczur has a right hamstring injury and has been put on the 15-day disabled list. His temporary replacement on the Cubs roster is Ryan Kalish.

 

Expectations

The Cubs are considered the best team in Major League Baseball. Going forward they have to keep winning in order to keep steady in the rankings. After finishing their series with the Pirates, the Cubs will travel back to Wrigley Field and face the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are currently 18-7 and are the number 2 team in the ESPN power rankings. The Nationals should be a good test for the Cubs and a means to test expectations going forward.

 

Pirates vs. Cubs: What You Need to Know for the NL Wild Card

(Photo Courtesy of sports mockery.com) 

Two teams. One with 98 wins. One with 97. Yes, believe it or not, this is a Wild Card matchup. At the beginning of this long Major League Baseball season, it may have been a common prediction to see two teams out of the NL Central playing in the Wild Card game. But honestly, who would have thought that these teams would own the 2nd and 3rd best record in all of the majors? Thank the St. Louis Cardinals for that.

In their third straight year in the postseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates are emerging as a regular contender amongst the league after a 20 season drought. This isn’t new to them anymore. Chicago, on the other hand, who regularly competed with Pittsburgh for the bottom spot in the NL Central standings, haven’t been to the dance since 2008, where they were swept in the NLDS by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Back in 2013, this was Pittsburgh. As they emerged into the postseason for the first time since Sid Bream was safe at the plate in the 1992 NLCS, they were the team with young talent ready to make some noise. Now in their third straight do-or-die Wild Card game, this is familiar territory. Now it’s Chicago who is rolling into the postseason on a hot streak with a plethora of young talent.

This game has generated an immaculate amount of anticipation. I know I can’t wait. Pirates Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen took to The Players’ Tribune to ignite energy into the entire city of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. In a heart-throbbing essay, McCutchen explains what it’s like to play in front of a sold out crowd in an MLB Playoff game. This included mention of Russell Martin’s 2013 homer off of Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, after a consenual “CUUEETTTOO” chant that filled PNC Park. He also called upon his fans to fill up the park with energy come tonight:

“It feels like Christmas Eve already. I don’t want to be able to hear myself think, Pittsburgh.”

Talk about a pump up speech.

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta also pulled something out of his sleeve to give his crowd a boast. He took to Twitter to respond to a Pirates’ parody account, who warned Arrieta of the environment he and the Chicago Cubs were about to enter, engaging in some friendly trash talk. What Arrieta said certainly should have got some Cubs fans excited, and is something he’s earned the right to say.

 

Yeah, he went there.

Currently in a 107 year World Series drought, it only seems fitting that the Chicago Cubs are ready to make a deep run.

What will it take?

What will it take for the Pittsburgh Pirates to avenge last year’s NL Wild Card loss to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, who just so happened to become World Series champions?

The Case for the Cubs

Well, we all know who is on the mount tonight. That’s right, Jake Arrieta. Posting 22 wins and hotter than any pitcher since the All-Star break, he is as good of a CY Young candidate as any. Arrieta will get the rock tonight, as he has posted a 0.75 ERA since the mid-summer classic and 1.77 ERA for the year. Those numbers haven’t changed a bit against the Buccos, as he has gone 3-1 with a 0.75 ERA against them this season. Did I mention the beard too? That thing is in tip top shape.

Alongside Arrieta’s dominance, Chicago has found much success out of its young talent. Kris Bryant, NL ROY candidate, has been nothing short of outstanding since his emergence into the league on Opening Day. Bryant has posted a solid .275 batting average, drove in 99 runs, and has homered 26 times on the season. A stat line like that on your rookie campaign doesn’t get too much better than that. He also has not treated Pittsburgh very kindly, posting a .400 batting average as well as driving in 15 runs and drawing 13 walks in 70 at bats.

Anthony Rizzo, a bit more experienced than Bryant, is also another young talent who has come up big this season. He has hit .278, sent 31 baseballs over the fence, and drove in 101 runs this season (3rd NL). Not too shabby. With this combination of balance and power, the meat of Chicago’s lineup is a force to be reckoned with. Starlin Castro has provided a consistent bat in the Cubs’ lineup, and the maturing rookie Addison Russell has provided stability in the field and at the plate.

As for veteran support, the Cubs don’t have all that much. At the plate, outfielder Dexter Fowler has provided some depth in the Chicago lineup, as he batted .250, hit 29 doubles, while even having stolen 20 bases in the process. On the mound, Jon Lester, who lost the ace role to the great Arrieta, gives veteran leadership to the pitching staff. He fanned 207 batters and posted a solid 3.34 ERA this season.

As most people predict this to be a low scoring game, I feel no differently. If Jake Arrieta is Jake Arrieta, and if Gerrit Cole is Gerrit Cole, this will be a defensive, nail-biting dog fight. For Chicago to take this game, they will need to get ahead and get ahead early, as they will be able to continue their reliance on Arrieta. If they can knock in 3 runs in the first 6 innings on Cole, this should triumph Chicago to victory.

The Case for the Pirates

Jake Arrieta this. Jake Arrieta that. That has all the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans have been hearing this week. Well, yeah. He’s good. But you know who else is good? You guessed it, Gerrit Cole. Cole has been pitching in Arrieta’s shadow for most of the season, but has been nothing short of incredible, which would certainly be a CY Young contending season in any other year but this one. Cole has posted 19 wins (2nd NL), a 2.60 ERA (5th NL), and 202 strikeouts. With an outstanding fastball-slider combination, Cole has dominated hitters this year. Not to mention, throughout his career, the Pittsburgh Pirates have come out victorious in 8 of the 9 times Cole has started the game against the Cubs.

Ah, what’s next? That’s right, the man who is responsible for almost single handedly saving the Pittsburgh Pirates’ franchise. Andrew McCutchen. In what many saw as a down year for Cutch, he still produced solid numbers. A .292 batting average, 96 RBIs, and 23 home runs is nothing to mince about. This team fuels on McCutchen’s leadership and energy, and the whole city of Pittsburgh, including the teammates, are excited more than ever to play this game due to his article in The Players’ Tribune.

The Pirates have also gained moral support from newly acquired catcher Francisco Cervilli (.295 BA), the speedy Starling Marte, Neil Walker, and mid-season acquisition Aramis Ramirez, who began his career in Pittsburgh. Since the season-ending knee injury to Jung Ho Kang, the Pirates have missed him dearly. Thankfully for the Pirates, the depth in their batting lineup have picked up the slack.

What about the bullpen, you might ask? Well, I figured I’d save the best for last. With a Major League leading and franchise record 51 saves this year, Mark Melancon has led the charge in a Pirates’ bullpen that has been stout all year. In fact, they have posted a major league leading bullpen ERA at 2.67, which compares very favorably to Chicago’s 3.38 reliever ERA.

So yeah, low scoring game. What does that mean for Gerrit Cole? Well, I think it’s going to take 6+ innings with one run or less to get past Arieta, and to then dive into that outstanding bullpen. A lot to ask from your pitcher, isn’t it? Who better though, than Gerrit Cole? Cole thrives in these situations, and if he comes through, so will his team. It may be hard to string together multiple hits against Arrieta, but if Cole can keep his team in the game, the Pirates can get the Cubs’ ace out of the ball game and win it late.

So, Who Wins?

This really is a toss up. There are a lot of experts out there who predict the winner of this game to meet the AL champion in the World Series. A bold call, but certainly fair. I’m going to have to go about half-head, half-heart on this one. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will prevail. With 2 previous years under their belt, they know how and how not to win a wild card game. Expect PNC Park to be as rowdy as ever. Gerrit Cole will execute, but so will Arrieta. This comes down to who makes one more mistake, and I think the young, inexperienced Cubs will be that team on the big stage. I think this ball game ends 3-1 in favor of the home team in a game to remember.

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Finish Line

Making The Case For Anthony Rizzo As NL MVP

Yesterday Anthony Rizzo launched his 24th home run of the season for the Chicago Cubs, helping the team win 7-1 over the Atlanta Braves. After the game Anthony Rizzo was sitting at 24 home runs and 73 runs batted in, both of which are top ten in the National League.

The Chicago Cubs are 68-51 on the season and are well on their way to making the playoffs and Rizzo has been the biggest reason for their success. At only 26 years old Rizzo is the leader of the Cubs offense and has done a magnificent job of guiding an extremely young team.

Once a top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, Rizzo was traded to the San Diego Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade in 2010. The Padres quickly gave up on the lefty hitter after the 2011 season and Rizzo was shipped to the Cubs, where he got the opportunity that he needed. Rizzo has gotten better each year and is having his best season as a pro, primed to set career highs in hits, RBIs, batting average, walks, on base percentage and slugging percentage.

Rizzo has also stolen 15 bases on the season for the Cubs, something that is impressive considering that he is a first baseman. His 5.7 Wins Above Replacement ranks him fifth in the National League and in a year where no player has stood out as a popular candidate for MVP, Rizzo is making himself be heard.

The Cubs first baseman has quietly become one of the best in baseball at his position and is one of the most valuable players to his team in all of baseball. Earlier in the season many wanted to give the MVP to Bryce Harper, who has 30 home runs this year, but the Nationals are likely to miss the playoffs. The Cubs however are primed to make the postseason for the first time since 2008 and look to win the World Series for the first time since 1908.

Looking at the Cubs roster, the team would not be very good without Rizzo and with him leading the way the Cubs are 17 games above .500 and have the fifth best record in all of baseball. The Cubs would be division leaders in four other divisions in baseball and their success has been because of their star player.

If the Cubs do indeed continue to play well and make the postseason, Rizzo should win the MVP award as he has been key to his team’s success. Very few players in baseball have been more important to their team than Rizzo has to the Cubs and Rizzo is on his way to winning what could be the first of multiple MVP awards for the lefty.

MLB Mid-Season Awards

(Photo from Zimbio)

As a famous commercial ad once stated-chicks dig the long ball!! So as baseballs most ferocious free-swingers flock to Cincinnati to show off their long-ball power in the 2015 Home-Run Derby, you may finally have a better excuse to head to Cincinnati than the fact that you’re going to visit “Kings Island”. With all the festivities coming during All-Star week next week, it seems as good as time as any to show off MY PICKS for mid-season MVP’s, CY-Youngs, and Manager of the year. So lets get to it!

 AL MVP -JOSH DONALDSON

This was a very close race for me when I looked at the candidates. Mike Trout is having his annual MVP-type campaign and Manny Machado has become the most well-rounded lead-off hitter in all of baseball, getting on-base at a clip of .360 while exhibiting power to the tune of an .895 OPS. However Josh Donaldson has simply been ridiculous this season. Donaldson has hit in either the 2 or 3 spot in the order in every game that he has played thus far and has produced accordingly, posting elite-type numbers with 21 Home-Runs, 60 RBI’s, while hitting at a clip of .299/.358/.543/.901. On the team with the best offense in baseball, Donaldson is the best offensive player.

Though we are only at the mid-season point, Donaldson has already posted 4.9 Wins Above Replacement Player, putting him on track to record an almost ridiculous 10 WARP on the year! Adding to his case for MVP, Donaldson has posted a UZR(ultimate-zone rating) of 7.4 on defense which trails only Nolan Arenado for 2nd place in all of baseball while placing a significant 1.3 point difference between himself and 3rd place Manny Machado at the 3rd base position. On a team in the Blue-Jays that has little help on the mound, ranking 12th in the AL in with a forgettable 4.16 team ERA, for the Blue-Jays to be only 3.5 games out of the lead in the AL East and only 3 games back of a wild-card has everything to do with the move they made in the offseason to acquire the mid-season MVP of the AL-Josh Donaldson.

 

 AL CY Young- Chris Archer

Quick note: It kills me that both the AL midseason MVP and AL midseason  Cy-young are products of my Chicago Cubs system before being traded for Rich Harden and Matt Garza!(ugh!)  I guess I can be happy that at least they’re not in the NL. In my estimation this is a 2-pony race, and the pony’s share the same name. Chris Sale and Chris Archer have been the best 2 pitchers by a long shot in the AL.

Chris Sale has actually posted slightly better numbers on the year but call me old-school in a sense that I provide a slight bump for being the ace on a team that is in contention.(Statisticians bring your punches, I’m ready!) While Chris Sale has been absolutely dominant posting a 2.80 ERA to go along with an FIP and xFIP of 2.31 and 2.35, good for a 3.7 WARP this season, he has also played in a less offensively dominant division, in my opinion.

In an AL-East division which sports the top 2 teams in ALL of baseball in terms of run-scored by means of Josh Donaldson’s Toronto Blue Jays and (gulp) Alex Rodriguez’s New York Yankees, Chris Archer has put up tremendous numbers on the year. Posting a 2.74 ERA and a FIP and xFIP of 2.64 and 2.57, Archer has gone 9-6 thus far while striking out 10.87/9 innings and posting a left-on-base percentage of 76.2, all of which is good for 3.2 WARP in the heavy-hitting division.

Furthermore, on a team that was all but left for dead with the departure of their GM Adam Friedman to the Dodgers, shortly followed by their eccentric manager Joe Maddon to the Cubs, Chris Archer has anchored a rotation for a Rays group that finds themselves just 4.5 games back in the division and 4 games back of a wild-card heading towards the break. Throw in the fact that their offense ranks an abysmal 25th in all of baseball in terms of run scored, and you’ve got an AL Cy-young winner in Chris Archer.

 

NL MVP- Bryce Harper

I’m on the Harper-wagon! Heck, I’m driving the wagon. After an off-season that saw Bryce Harper not attend “NatsFest” (come on Nationals marketing, there has GOT to be a better than that) due to some front-office turmoil as Harper was heading towards arbitration. Harper has come out swinging, literally, to show WHY he’s worth much more than the 2 year, 7.5 million dollar deal that was eventually reached to avoid the arbitration judge. Harper has already quadrupled his Wins Above Replacement Player total from last year even though he has played 22 less games so far, posting a 5.7 WARP.

He has become the most-feared left-handed hitter in all of baseball in my opinion by posting an outstanding slash-line of .343/.471/.709 with a wOBA of .490 per fangraphs. He has hit 25 home-runs on the year and knoced in 60 rbi’s while scoring 58 runs himself. While his strike-out rate is at 19.9% he is walking at an all-time career ML high rate of 19.0%, forcing pitchers to pitch to him or walk him. As the Nationals sit ahead of the offensively-starving New York Mets in the NL East by 3 games heading into the break, Bryce Harper has been head-and-shoulders above any other candidate in the race for MVP in the NL to date.

 

NL Cy-Young- Zack Greinke

I REALLY wanted to give this to Max Scherzer. Mainly because a co-worker of mine is a Dodgers fan and has done nothing but harp on how Greinke would beat Scherzer in a head-to-head NLCS match-up, which I don’t buy. However he is right about one thing, Greinke is the mid-season Cy Young award winner. While Scherzer put up the best 3-game stretch of any pitcher I have seen in my lifetime in early June, posting a one-hitter, no-hitter, and taking a no-hitter into the 6th inning the following game, Greinke has been nothing short of amazing the entire season.

Posting a miniscule 1.39 ERA to go along with 2.65 FIP and an xFIP of 3.18, Greinke sits at 8-2 for the Dodgers as they hold a 5.5 game lead over the Giants and Diamondbacks in the NL West. While his xFIP isn’t as strong as Scherzers, Greinke is pitching incredibly well with men on base, posting an 89.5 left-on-base percentage. With the season at the mid-way point, the Dodgers sitting comfortably in first place in their division, and Greinke posting numbers like these, I have to give it to my co-worker and place Greinke as my mid-season Cy Young winner.

 

AL MANAGER- Kevin Cash(in a landslide)

As mentioned in the AL Cy-Young award-winner portion, the Tampa Bay Rays were left for dead. They lost 2-time AL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon to the Cubs, they lost super-executive Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, and they traded away Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar. They rank 25th in all of baseball in runs scored in a division that has the top 2 overall teams in that category, and one of their trade acquisitions, John Jaso, has been on the DL for most of the year until being activated in the last 2 weeks. Somehow, someway, Kevin Cash has this team in contention in both the wild-card and the AL East.

Now, the AL-East hasn’t exactly had a team run away in the division to date, but for the Rays to have held 1st-place at multiple times throughout the first half of the season is nothing short of a miraculous management job by Cash. It was reported by multiple media sources that, if healthy, the Rays don’t intend to do their annual trade-deadline sell-off and allow Cash to stand pat with the roster he has. If that’s the case, I’m not betting against Cash to get the Rays into the AL Wild-Card game and potentially make some noise in the AL-playoffs this fall.

 

NL MANAGER- Joe Maddon

Respect 90! That was the moniker Joe Maddon implemented upon coming over from the aforementioned Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs in the controversial management acquisition in the off-season. His players have listened. With a team full of 21-25 year old’s and minimal playoff experience outside of David Ross, Miguel Montero, and Jon Lester, the Cubs were not expected to contend this year, as many media pundits all but circled 2016 as the year that competitive baseball returned to Wrigley Field. Well to that Joe Maddon has done what he does best, shock the media!

With a team  that saw mega-acquisition Jon Lester get off to a slow start and has had less-than-stellar performances out of other veterans such as Dexter Fowler, Joe Maddon has found a way to have his team in the 2nd wild-card spot as of today. The Cubs are tied with the Nationals for the 4th-best record in the NL despite being in arguably baseball toughest division that includes the MLB-leading St. Louis Cardinals. While the Cubs do sport rookie of the year candidate Kris Bryant, MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo, and super-prospect 21-year old Addison Russell, this Cubs roster is one that would most likely be on the outside looking in of fall baseball  in Wrigley if not for the efforts of manager Joe Maddon.

 

2015 Home Run Derby Haves And Have Nots

He’s never won it, but Pujols enters the 2015 Home Run Derby Tournament as the top seed.

(Photo courtesy: Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Eight sluggers, five minute rounds and single elimination. Blast away as there is no more 10-out rule. It’s a new tournament style format for the 2015 Home Run Derby in Cincinnati next Monday. It’s good fun, but usually three hours of being yelled at by Chris Berman. Maybe we can use the Statcast graphics and the volume control to our advantage to offset the background noise.

More rules to follow, but here are the first round matchups on the left side of the bracket. All home run totals are through Wednesday’s ballgames.

#1 Albert Pujols (26 HR) vs #8 Kris Bryant (12 HR)

Pujols will be competing in the derby for the 4th time. He’s a three-time semifinalist, but has never won the event. Albert hit 8 home runs in his first 44 games this season, but 18 of his AL leading 26 home runs have come over the last 37 games.

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant was homerless in his first 20 games as a rookie, but has 12 dingers including two 2-homer games since then (55 games).

#4 Joc Pederson (20 HR) vs #5 Manny Machado (19 HR)

The Dodgers Pederson is hitting .231. The Orioles Machado is hitting .301. Both are just 23-years-old and might be anchoring a fantasy team I own.

On the right side of the bracket we have:

#3 Josh Donaldson (21 HR) vs #6 Anthony Rizzo (16 HR)

It took Donaldson 11 games to homer for the Blue Jays, but he finished May with 15 and has slowed down a bit. Just six homers since May 31st, but he’s still slashing .299/.348/.543.

Anthony Rizzo gives the Cubs two participants in the derby and the potential for an all-Cubs final. Nobody ever really has the Cubs getting to the finals of anything so it’s not going to happen. Rizzo would win any and all hit by pitch contests. He has an 18-12 lead over all star Alex Gordon who will miss Royals games for the next eight weeks with a groin injury. Brett Gardner fans are happy as the Gordon injury graduates #VoteGardy from the #FinalVote list.

#2 Todd Frazier (25 HR) vs #7 Prince Fielder (13 HR)

Home field advantage belongs to the Reds’ Todd Frazier. The ToddFather has 15 of his 25 home runs at home. Not to big of a split, but it’s worth noting he has a giant home/road disparity in OPS. 1.117 at GABP as opposed to .754 on the road. If Frazier doesn’t hit nonstop home runs he should still double off the wall a lot on Monday.

Prince Fielder has won the home run derby twice so the Rangers’ DH kind of gets grandfathered in as good entertainment. If he wins, he’ll tie Ken Griffey Jr.’s record of three-time home run derby champ.

You might be thinking, what the heck are Anthony Rizzo, Prince Fielder, and Kris Bryant doing in the Home Run Derby based on their power output? Don’t several other players have more home runs than these guys? Yes.

The major league home run leader is still Giancarlo Stanton (27 HR) but he’s on the DL with a broken hand. All Star Bryce Harper (25 HRs) won’t be participating because his dad is on the DL and wouldn’t be able to pitch to him. Then we reach the 24 HR level that consists of Mike Trout who celebrated the 4-yr anniversary of his debut on Wednesday with two home runs. He sounds like a guy who will participate at some point. Right now his focus is on the Angels who trail the Astros by just 1.5 games. The Halos are 9-1 of late and 5-0 since the Dipoto departure. Trout’s an all star, but like 24-HR all star counterparts J.D. Martinez and Nolan Arenado, he will not be in the HR derby. Other all stars not participating with 20+ dingers are:

Mark Teixiera (22 HR)

Nelson Cruz (21 HR)

Paul Goldschmidt (20 HR)

2013-2014 Home Run Derby champ #VoteYo only has 12 home runs this season. Cespedes is currently battling to make the all star team in the AL final vote.

It wouldn’t be baseball if there weren’t some confusing elements involved that introduce grey areas.

  1. Any home run hit within one minute remaining will stop the timer immediately when the ball lands in home run territory. The time will then not start again until the batter hits a ball that doesn’t land in home run territory or swings and misses at a pitch.
  1. Each batter gets one “time out” per round
  1. Players can earn up to 90-seconds of bonus time if they eclipse the 420 foot mark twice or the 475 feet plateau. Free autographed Pete Rose baseball goes to any hitter sending a ball into the Ohio River.
  1. Ties in any round will be broken by a 90-second swing-off. If the batters remain tied I think the number of Twitter followers you have determines the winner.

Enjoy the home run derby Vines, retweets and back, back, back, backs.

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Big Fish Games

The One Area the Chicago Cubs Need to Improve

(Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Somehow, someway the Chicago Cubs have the third-best record in the National League. But if the team wants to hold on to the final playoff spot they will need to make improvements, especially with a four-game series against arch rival St. Louis starting Monday night.

Many experts say the team needs to add another solid arm to the pitching rotation. Experts also claim another bat is needed.

Both are more than likely true, but there is one glaring problem with the team — the lead-off spot.

Dexter Fowler was signed to a one year deal worth $9.5M in the off-season to be the catalyst of the offense. He was also signed for his defense from his center field position. The latter has been nearly flawless, while the former poses as the glaring problem.

Over the last 10 games, the Cubs lead-off man has just five base knocks in 35 at-bats. Simple math points to an atrocious .142 average. The decline in offensive production has dropped his season average to .228 for the season with an on-base percentage at .305. Neither of which are the type of numbers a team wants from its lead-off man, never mind a young team.

It’s no wonder the Cubs, as a team, have scored just 2.2 runs over their last 12 games with a collective average of .207 over that same stretch.

On the plus side, Fowler does have eight long balls on the season and has driven in 23 runs. His 51 runs scored are fifth best in the league. But most of those numbers were inflated earlier in the season.

It’s no secret a team’s offense can be boosted by an effective leadoff hitter. With power guys such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant following in the order, lots of good things could come with the leadoff hitter being on base.

I am sure the Cubs could live with Fowler’s average being less than stellar if he continued to take walks and had a respectable on base percentage. Neither has happened over the last month or so.

Sure others such as Rizzo and “cleanup” hitter Miguel Montero have recently struggled as well. But with a lead-off man who gets on base can ease the pressure from the RBI guys’ shoulders. Runners on base adds pressure to pitchers to make the perfect pitch to the guys in the lineup who can do damage. Trying to make the perfect pitch to guys like Rizzo and Bryant can lead to mistake pitches, which ultimately lead to more hard hit balls.

This current Cubs offense has more than just one weakness, at the moment, but a more effective Fowler could help solve some of those issues.

And if Fowler cannot right the ship soon, Cubs manager Joe Maddon needs to make a change at the top. Or perhaps the “bat” experts are calling for should be one who can also fill the void at the top of the order.

 

http://SportsRants.com

Soler’s Big Game Signals Cubs’ Offensive Growth

(Photo Courtesy of CBS Chicago)

Two homeruns and four RBI against the Reds

Chicago Cubs’ right fielder Jorge Soler was able to jump start his 2015 production in a huge game for him on Monday night against Mike Leake and the Cincinnati Reds.  With Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo being the most noteworthy offensive players on the Cubs to start the 2015 season, Jorge Soler’s performance establishes that the Cubs have more than just two offensive threats on their team early on.  While the team waits for the upcoming debut of rookie phenom Kris Bryant, Cubs fans have wondered where the offensive production would come from on nights where Castro and Rizzo did not register extra base hits.  Jorge Soler’s performance against the Reds where he had three hits in five at bats, including two homeruns was a big answer to the questions about the Cubs’ offense .  Role player Chris Coghlan has also done a nice job for the team early on this season, but the expectations of star level production for this team is placed largely on a group of young position players for the Cubs this season.  A further look at what the Cubs’ offense has been able to produce so far on the young season, along with expectations for Kris Bryant, will help to determine if this Cubs’ offense has enough to announce their arrive to Major League Baseball this season.

Three position players on the roster working to meet high expectations

The Cubs have enough quality role players to field a good offensive team this season, but none of their three best hitters on the team currently occupy the leadoff spot in the lineup.  Monday’s lineup featured Anthony Rizzo batting second, with Jorge Soler batting third and Starlin Castro batting fifth behind Chris Coghlan in the lineup.  While Dexter Fowler is one of the Cubs’ better hitters, the three players with the highest expectations were all batting behind him in the lineup.  Having Fowler as a legitimate leadoff man with a .365 career on base percentage, allows the Cubs to put the middle of a competitive batting lineup in place behind their best role player in the leadoff spot in their lineup .  Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro are all expected to hit for power this season as members of the middle of the Cubs’ order.  Having these type of hitters in the middle of their lineup should produce the extra base hit totals needed to drive in a significant number of runs.  So far this season through six games played the Cubs have produced 25 runs to put them just over four runs per game.  With Kris Bryant soon to join the middle of the Cubs’ order as their cleanup hitter, this offense could be in position to continue what they have started in the early going of the 2015 season.

A rookie batting cleanup for the Cubs

Having a rookie hitter batting cleanup may not be the ideal situation for the Cubs in 2015 as they look to contend for a playoff berth throughout the season.  Kris Bryant is not the typical rookie hitter however, and at age 23 he has displayed the maturity necessary to take over this significant role for the Cubs.  Of course the Cubs could change their lineup to feature Jorge Soler or Anthony Rizzo in the cleanup spot early on after Bryant’s promotion to the MLB level, but Jorge Soler is the same age as Kris Bryant with only a couple more months of MLB experience.  Either way, Bryant’s presence in the Cubs’ lineup helps to complete the middle of their order with the bats necessary to produce a sufficient run total this season.  Since Bryant has the most power on the Cubs’ 40 man roster, with the possible exception of Anthony Rizzo, it makes sense for him to earn the role of being the team’s cleanup hitter after his promotion.  With Bryant likely to spend most of the 2015 season at the MLB level, it is not unreasonable to expect him to produce 30 or more homeruns as the Cubs’ cleanup hitter throughout the rest of this season.

Have the Cubs arrived offensively?

The Cubs have arrived offensively this season, even though they are not guaranteed to be great against some of the fantastic pitching staffs in the National League Central this season.  With Bryant being one of the better right handed power hitters in the game of baseball right now, the Cubs now have the bats necessary to drive in a significant amount of runs this season.  Being able to push quality role players such as Miguel Montero and Chris Coghlan, into the sixth and seventh spots in the lineup, allows the Cubs to have the lineup depth in place that is necessary for meeting their ultimate offensive goals.  The power hitters on the Cubs are going to experience some struggles this season because of their tendency to strike out at a significant rate.  Some games may be rough as the power hitters for Chicago experience growing pains, but it appears that they ultimately have the talent it takes to get the job done offensively throughout the run producing spots in the lineup.