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.

 

Schwarber Out For The Season

According to both Yahoo Sports and MLB.com, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber has torn his ACL and LCL in his left knee, ending his 2016 season.

The injury occurred during an outfield collision Thursday night between Schawrber and Dexter Fowler, as both were chasing down a deep fly ball hit to left/center by Arizona Diamondbacks short stop Jean Segura in the bottom of the second inning. Schwarber’s left leg became entangled with Fowler, while Segura sped around the bases and was credited with an inside-the-park home run.

Worried Cubs fans looked on as Schwarber laid stomach down out on the warning track, as skipper Joe Maddon, numerous teammates, and the medical staff rushed out to aid the young slugger. Per MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, Schwarber was able to get to his feet with the help of athletic trainers PJ Mainville and Ed Halbur, and was taken out via stretcher shortly after.

It goes without saying but the loss of Schwarber is a significant blow for Chicago. The 23-year-old provided home run power at the plate and could also play behind it as well, with his primary position being catcher. The Cubs chose to start Schwarber in left this year to ensure his bat would be a part of an already potent lineup.

In just 69 games last season, Schwarber produced a respectable .246/.355/.487 slash line with 16 home runs and 43 RBI.

With Schwarber now indefinitely sidelined, Chicago will likely use a platoon in left consisting of Jorge Soler, Matt Szczur, and possibly rotate in third baseman Kris Bryant on occasion (Bryant had a short stint last season in the outfield, before locking down the hot corner).

The Cubs have also reportedly brought up Triple-A prospect Munenori Kawasaki to fill his slot on the 40 man roster.

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Current MLB Droughts

It’s been said time and again that “Good things come to those who wait.” and “Patience is a virtue”. While those statements can certainly prove themselves to be true for most people, fans of the teams listed in this post may have a bone to pick with those proverbs. Heck for some fans, their patience has been stretched so thin, you could use it as fishing line.

WARNING: Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, and Rangers fans may not wish to continue reading (and nobody would blame you). For everyone else still reading, I won’t keep you waiting. Lets dive into the top ten MLB droughts:

 

10. Baltimore Orioles

While the O’s were able to end a post-season appearance drought of 17 years back in 2014 (previous appearance was in 1997), they are still enduring a World Series title drought dating back to 1983 (32 years). Couple that with the string of last and fourth place finishes throughout their previous 17 year playoff drought, and the fans of Camden Yards are left clamoring for a championship. If nothing else to finally have some bragging rights over the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who have won four of the last 10 World Series.

Finishing last year at 81-81 (.500 on the dot) and in third place in the AL East, Baltimore’s chances of ending that 32 year drought, in my opinion, is much like last years finish, 50/50.

 

9. Pittsburgh Pirates

Much like the Orioles, the Bucs ended their previous playoff drought of 20 years back in 2013, and just this past season had fans thinking they’d be raising the jolly roger flag in the World Series for the first time since 1979. Pittsburgh won 98 games in 2015, but saw their impressive season end abruptly after a 4-0 loss to the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. This caused a 35 year old World Series drought to turn 36.

Despite being cellar dwellers in the National League Central during the majority of that previous 20 year playoff drought, the Bucs are now making the playoffs consistently. So maybe, just maybe, their World Series drought is close to being quenched.

 

8. Seattle Mariners

While the Mariners may have recently had another former star enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Ken Griffey Jr., something  you won’t find in Cooperstown is a Mariners World Series trophy. That’s because since entering the league in 1977 (39 years ago), Seattle has never won the fall classic.

The Mariners 2001 season in which they won an MLB record 116 wins, along with the National League West division, is by far the franchises one shining moment amongst a collection of otherwise forgettable seasons. With 2001 being the last time the M’s made the playoffs, they currently have the longest post-season drought at 14 years. Despite some nice off-season acquisitions over past few seasons, and a solid pitching rotation headed by “King” Felix Hernandez, Seattle fans will likely remain sleepless for years to come.

 

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

(Todd Warshaw/Allsport)

 

7. San Diego Padres

Padres fans share a similar pain with Seattle in that they too have never experienced their team winning a World Series. Fans of the Fathers have suffered a bit longer though than the folks in Seattle. With the Padres entering the league back in 1969, San Diego’ drought stands at 47 years. To make matters worse, unless the Padres can pull of their best season since 2006 in 2016, it will be 10 years since San Diego last won the NL West.

San Diego can take some solace in knowing that they aren’t the only team to have a 47 year old championship drought. The next two teams on this list also have never won the big one in their franchises existence either.

 

6. Milwaukee Brewers

Like San Diego, Milwaukee has also never won a World Series since entering the MLB in 1969 (47 years). Additionally, the Brewers have never won a National League Pennant since joining the NL in 1998. The last time the Brewers did win a Pennant (1982), they were still in the American League. Bringing the total pennant drought for Milwaukee to 33 years.

As if those stats aren’t sad enough for fans of the Brew Crew, Milwaukee finished last years tumultuous, injury riddled 2015 season at 68-95 in fourth place of the NL Central. What’s ahead for 2016?

All signs point to them battling for who gets top bunk at the bottom of the division, with the Cincinnati Reds this year. My prediction, more of the same pain for the foreseeable future.

 

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

(Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

5. Washington Nationals

Entering last year, the Nationals were odds on favorites to win their first World Series in franchise history. As you’ve probably caught on to the theme of this post by now, things went sour for Washington in 2015. By the time the post-season arrived, the Nationals were on the outside looking in.

Like the aforementioned Brewers,  Washington has also never won a National League Pennant. Bringing their drought total to 47 years for both a pennant and a title. Fans of this franchise are used to waiting however.

This is because there was a 33 year absence of the teams existence in our nations capital from 1972-2005 (In 72′ the Washington Senators left DC for Fort Worth to become the Texas Rangers).

2015 aside, I feel that Bryce Harper & Co. can certainly rebound in 2016 and vie for the franchises first championship.

 

4. Houston Astros

After losing to the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series, the Astros started to slip in the standings steadily from 2006-2010. Then from 2011-2013 they managed to finish last in both the NL Central (2011-2012) and American League West divisions (2013, switching from the NL to the AL). In 2014 they avoided a fourth straight last place finish by placing fourth a few games ahead of the Rangers.

When you add that slump to a 54 year World Series drought, it doesn’t exactly cause your fan base to believe it will end anytime soon. However, finishing in last place year after year doesn’t have to be all bad.

The Astros have used their top draft picks and made a few savvy free agent signings over those years, to build a playoff caliber team that surprised many last year. Houston bowed out, however, in the American League Divisional Series to the Kansas City Royals (The Royals would go on to win it all and end their 30 year title drought) .

Only time will tell if the Astros can continue their 2015 success story and possibly put an end to their Texas sized title drought.

 

3. Texas Rangers

The Rangers surged last year on their way to edging the Astros in the AL west to claim the division for the third time in five years. Coincidently, they also edge Houston on this list by one year as their drought for a World Series title stands at 55 years.

Although fans have been experiencing a yo-yo affect with Texas’ seasonal outcomes of late (Nearly winning it all in 2011, then finishing last in 2014), the Rangers seem to be only a few pieces of the puzzle away from putting together a championship team.

It will certainly be interesting to see if these Texas teams continue to shine in 2016, as both fan bases could use some reassurance that things are looking up.

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

(Photo Courtesy of ESPN)

2. Cleveland Indians

There’s no denying the state of Texas has suffered over the years when it comes to professional baseball, but no sports city in the country has suffered more than Cleveland. Enter the Cleveland Indians, whose fans are apart of a Tribe that’s endured a 67 year long World Series drought. The last time the Indians won a World Series, was way back in 1948.

Despite multiple fall classic appearances in the late 90’s, the Tribe tripped and stumbled each time leading them to an 18 year AL Pennant drought as well. The closest Cleveland has come recently to ending both droughts was in 2007, when they lost a seven game ALCS to the Boston Red Sox.

Hope, however, may be on the horizon for Chief Wahoo and the city of Cleveland. According to another Sports Rants contributor, the Indians  are the AL’s sleeper team in 2016.

 

1. Chicago Cubs

If I had a dollar for every year a Chicago Cubs fan said “This is the year, we’re winning the World Series” I would have $107. When you have to go back farther than an entire century to find your teams last World Series title (1908), superstitions, curses, even supernatural events start to become believable.

To put this into perspective, the last time the Cubs won a title the president was Theodore Roosevelt, gas was 20 cents a gallon, and the number one song was “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (per the Huffington Post).

Chicago like Cleveland, has also suffered playoff collapses and heartache during their drought (see the Steve Bartman Incident from 2003). To make matters worse, as if the drought and playoff fiascos haven’t been enough, the city of Chicago has already seen a drought end. The Cubs longtime rival Chicago White Sox  (mentioned earlier in this post) defeated the Astros in 2005 to end their title drought of 87 years.

Despite all of this, the 2016 Cubs actually appear to be in a position to finally put that old Billy goat to bed. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see, but at least fans of this franchise have some hope again.

 

Final Thought:

While these droughts have no doubt been daunting for each respective franchise, we’ve seen a number of teams end their  post-season and World Series woes over the last 15 seasons. So, whether it’s been a few decades or over a century, just remember, there’s always next year.

 

Opening Day 2016: What To Watch For

Ah, Opening Day. The field grass is trimmed up just right, fans from all over the country pack stadiums to see the MLB’s best perform, and another season of America’s favorite past time is underway.

With just over 40 days left until the MLB regular seasons first pitch is thrown on Sunday April 3rd, 2016, anticipation is mounting for baseball fans everywhere. A total of eight teams will start the season off on that Sunday, 20 more teams will begin play on Monday April 4th. 2016, and the Miami Marlins host the Detroit Tigers in their home opener on Tuesday April 5th.

That’s three days set to be chock-full of home runs, outstanding pitching, “web gems”, and will feature all 10 of last years playoff teams. So, with the regular season right around the corner, I’ll provide you with a rundown of five must see matchups, and some key players to keep an eye on:

 

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Adam Wainwright (STL) vs. Gerrit Cole (PIT)

Players to Watch: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Matt Carpenter (STL), Josh Harrison (PIT), and Matt Holiday (STL)

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Sunday April 3rd at 3:05 p.m. EST on FSW)

Probable Pitchers- Jon Lester (CHC) vs. Garrett Richards (LAA)

Players to Watch: Mike Trout (LAA), Anthony Rizzo (CHC), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Kris Bryant (CHC)

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals (Kaufmann Stadium on Sunday April 3rd at 8:37 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Jacob DeGrom (NYM) vs. Edison Volquez (KC)

Players to Watch: Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Alex Gordon (KC), Neil Walker (NYM), and Lorenzo Cain (KC)

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium on Monday April 4th at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Dallas Kuechel (HOU) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)

Players to Watch: Jose Altuve (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Carlos Correa (HOU), and Starlin Castro (NYY)

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. on Sports Time Ohio)

Probable Pitchers- David Price (BOS) vs. Corey Kluber (CLE)

Players to Watch: Michael Brantley* (CLE), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Francisco Lindor (CLE), Mookie Betts (BOS)

 

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ball Park on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. EST)

The Phils and Red Legs game may not be a “must watch”, but growing up 30 miles east of Cincinnati, I felt compelled to recognize the rich history of Opening Day in Cincy.

 

Other Opening Series Players to Watch:

Jason Heyward- After switching National League Central teams this off-season from the Cards to the Cubs, posting a .293/.359./.797 slash line in 2015 with 79 runs, 13 home runs, and 60 RBI, Chicago will hope to see Heyward improve on those stats for 2016 in pursuit of the teams first World Series title since 1908.

Zack Greinke- Posting a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, and 200 strikeouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Greinke begins 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greinke will likely be the D-Backs Opening Day starter against the Colorado Rockies on Monday April 4th.

Daniel Murphy- Despite losing his post-season magic in last years Fall Classic with the Mets, Daniel Murphy still posted a solid .288/.322/.770 slash line with 56 runs, 14 home runs, and 73 RBI  for 2015. Murphy begins 2016 anew with the Washington Nationals, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he affects a clubhouse that could use his positive attitude.

Johnny Cueto- The reunion of former Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez in last years post-season and World Series with KC was only temporary. After an 11-13 record with 176 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 2015 (split between the Reds and Royals), Cueto will try to better those numbers with his new team, the San Francisco Giants in 2016.

 

(All probable pitchers are based solely off of team depth charts as of February 22nd,2016, and may be subject to change after Spring Training results)

(* Brantley may not be available to the Indians until April or May, as he is still recovering from a right shoulder injury)

(For a complete 2016 regular season schedule, visit MLB.com)

Final Thought:

I’ll simply end with a fitting quote from one of the games all-time greats:

You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.- Joe DiMaggio

 

 

How the Cubs are Winning the Offseason

They were one of the most improved teams in all of baseball in 2015. Now after signing a few key players this offseason, it looks like the Chicago Cubs are gearing themselves up for a World Series run next season.

This past season was a very successful one for the Cubs. They won 97 games and captured the second NL Wildcard spot. The team got all the way to the NLCS before they were swept by the New York Mets. Nobody really expected the Cubs to do as well as they did in 2015. Manager Joe Maddon had his young team at least a year ahead of schedule. Players like third baseman Kris Bryant , first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and left fielder Kyle Schwarber really emerged as rising stars.

Even though the Cubs greatly exceeded expectations, they still fell short of the ultimate goal. The front office knew there were a few positions that the team could upgrade at. As soon as the offseason began, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer got right to work. Pitcher John Lackey was the first player the team signed. They agreed on a two-year, $32 million deal with Lackey, who went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals last year. This signing helps strengthen the Cubs starting rotation. It’s already a solid staff that includes Lackey’s former teammate Jon Lester, as well as the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta. These three pitchers will help make the Cubs’ top of the rotation one of the best in baseball.

On December 8, the Cubs signed switch-hitting utility man Ben Zobrist to a four year, $56 million contract. Zobrist was highly coveted by many teams, including the Mets. He was a big part of the Kansas City Royals during their World Series run this past October. A switch-hitter with power that can play second base, shortstop, and the outfield, Zobrist is a big addition to an already talented Cubs team.

Minutes after signing Zobrist, the Cubs made another big splash. They traded second baseman/shortstop Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and infielder Brendan Ryan. Epstein and Hoyer decided to ship Castro because they didn’t have a use for him anymore. Zobrist will mostly play second base for the Cubs next season, the position that Castro played for most of last year. The Cubs have the shortstop position pretty much nailed down as well, with Addison Russell starting and Javier Baez backing him up. Russell had a good year last year in his first season in the MLB. He has the potential to be one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. The trade made sense for the Cubs. They got rid of Castro’s contract and acquired a good long relief pitcher in Warren.

Epstein and Hoyer weren’t done yet. They decided that one more big signing was necessary to solidify their team. That signing came in the form of power-hitting outfielder Jason Heyward. The deal was first announced a week ago. It was made official on Tuesday, when Heyward officially signed the eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs. Not only is Heyward a good offense player, but he’s also a three-time Gold Glove Award winner. He’ll join a young talented outfield that includes Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber. Both players have a tremendous amount of offensive potential. Schwarber really showcased his offensive talent last year, although he also showed that he’s not very good defensively. Heyward’s great glove will help improve the Cubs’ overall outfield defense, and his offense will help make their lineup even more dangerous.

The way things look right now, the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in all of baseball next season. They have an extremely talented young team. The additions of Lackey, Zobrist, and Heyward help give them veteran leadership and even more skill than they had before. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done an excellent job of improving their team this offseason. Thanks to them, the Cubs now have a very good chance to win the 2016 World Series. Cubs fans have been waiting forever for their team to win it all. Next year, their patience might finally pay off.

 

Cubs Skipper Joe Maddon Named NL Manager of the Year

He accomplished a lot in his first year in Chicago. Now Joe Maddon has been recognized for his success.

On Tuesday night, Maddon was officially named the National League Manager of the Year. The Chicago Cubs manager beat out Mike Matheny of the St Louis Cardinals and Terry Collins of the New York Mets for the award. Maddon received 18 first-place votes, while Matheny received 9 and Collins only 3.

This is the third time that Maddon has won Manager of the Year. He won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2008 and 2011 while he was managing the Tampa Bay Rays. Maddon managed the Cubs to a 97-65 record this season. The team finished third in the NL Central, but captured the second NL Wildcard spot. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in the NL Wildcard Game, and then went on to beat the Cardinals in four games in the NLDS. Maddon had the Cubs back in the NLCS for the first time since 2003. However, the team went no further, as they were swept by the Mets in the NLCS. Even though the season didn’t end they way they wanted it to, the Cubs definitely took a big step forward in 2015.

The Cubs won 73 games and finished in last place in their division in 2014. After Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays at the end of the 2014 season, the Cubs decided to fire their manager Rick Renteria and hire Maddon. While with the Rays, Maddon had established himself as one of the best managers in all of baseball. Over the course of nine seasons in Tampa Bay, he posted a record of 754 and 705. He managed the Rays to the World Series in 2008, but they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s easy to see why the Cubs were so quick to fire Renteria and hire Maddon.

Tasked with managing a young Cubs team, Maddon certainly had his hands full this past season. As the season progressed, more and more good young hitters were called up from the minor leagues. Young third baseman Kris Bryant was called up in mid-April. Going into the season, many baseball experts considered Bryant the best prospect in all of baseball. Addison Russell was called up by the team a few days later. Kyle Schwarber, the player the Cubs drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft, was called up in June. These three hitters all showed right away that they had tremendous offensive talent. They added to an already talented Cubs offense that included Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Maddon did a good job of managing his lineup day in and day out. He made sure to use his young offensive talent in the most effective ways possible.

Even though the Cubs were loaded with talent in 2015, they didn’t have much experience. Maddon was able to guide this inexperienced team. They stayed a few games over .500 for the majority of the season, and then really took off the last two months. They won a combined 38 games in August and September while losing only 18. As the season went on, you could see the young players becoming more and more comfortable as they became acclimated with the Cubs and playing at the Major League level. By the time the regular season was over, Maddon had the Cubs looking like one of the best teams in all of baseball.

There’s no doubt that Joe Maddon deserved to win the NL Manager of the Year Award. He came to Chicago and completely turned the culture around. Under his leadership, the Cubs went from being a last place team to a legitimate World Series contender. With all the good young players the Cubs have, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be back in the playoffs next year. After the success they had this year, the logical next step for this team would be to at least get to the World Series. Considering the players they have and who their manager is, it’s hard not to like their chances.       

 

 

2015: The Year Of The Met

There has perhaps been no more impressive team in the 2015 Major League Baseball Postseason than the New York Mets. In the National League Divisional Series the Mets were able to beat a very strong Los Angeles Dodgers team in five games and did so by beating Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 and beating Zach Greinke in the decisive game 5.

The Mets have continued to surge forward and after two games in the National League Championship Series they lead the Chicago Cubs two games to zero. The Mets have outscored the Cubs 8-3 in two games and with staff ace Jacob DeGrom set to start game 3 tonight against the Cubs at Wrigley, the Mets are very close to making the World Series for the first time since 2000.

Jacob DeGrom faces Cub starter Kyle Hendricks in tonight’s game and so far in the postseason DeGrom has been lights out and boasts a 2-0 record with a 1.38 earned run average in 13 innings pitched. Hendricks has not been as effective in the postseason and he allowed three runs over 4.2 innings in his single start against the St Louis Cardinals.

The Mets have played very well in the postseason and through 7 games they have a team earned run average of 2.90, which is the best of any playoff team. This 2015 New York Mets club is eerily similar to the 1969 ‘Miracle Mets’ who were led by 25 year old starting pitcher Tom Seaver and 22 year old Nolan Ryan. That Mets team relied on its stellar young pitching and timely hitting to get them to the World Series and that year the Mets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles four games to one to clinch the World Series title.

This year the Mets have been carried by young pitchers and after 27 year old DeGrom starts tonight’s game against the Cubs, 24 year old Steven Matz will start game four tomorrow night. The Cubs will salvage a game at Wrigley Field, but they will not be able to cool down this high octane Mets team and the Mets will win games three and five to get back to the World Series.

However, the player that has been the most instrumental to the Mets postseason success is 30 year old second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy was a rookie in 2008 for the Mets and has spent seven years with the ball club and is now finally getting to taste success. The spotlight has been great for Murphy, who has been sensational for the New York ball club and is hitting .357 with five home runs and eight runs batted in in the postseason. The second baseman leads all players in the postseason in home runs and is second behind Kendrys Morales in runs batted in.

After dispatching the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, the Mets will await the winner of the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. Both teams are far more experienced than the Mets, but neither club has the dynamic starting pitching that the Mets have and the New York ball club will be able to handle the pressure of Toronto’s hitting or the Kansas City bullpen.

The Blue Jays will win game four tonight against the Royals and will win the series in seven games setting up a World Series that will feature dominant hitting versus dominant pitching. The Blue Jays will get off to a slow start in the series and the Mets will split the opening two games in Toronto before coming back to New York and winning games three and four. Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey will be huge for the Mets in the series and will likely start games one and two for the Mets.

Perhaps no pitcher wants to prove more than Harvey just how much he wants to win and he has been excellent so far in the postseason, going 2-0 with a 2.84 earned run average in 12.2 innings. Harvey will win two games for the Mets in the World Series and the Mets will win the series in six games, capping off a truly magical year for a team that is built to succeed for a long time.

Cubs Surge Into NLCS For the First Time in 12 Years

It was quite a scene at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night. The Chicago Cubs, a franchise that has been known for their struggles and championship drought finally had something to celebrate. They had finally won a playoff series, and by doing so cliched a birth in the NLCS for the first time in over a decade. For the Cubs and their fans, this was a long time coming.

The Cubs used their high-powered offense to beat their division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLDS. After getting shutout 4-0 in St. Louis in Game 1, the Cubs’ bats woke up. They scored six runs early in Game 2 and were able to hold on and win 6-3 thanks to a strong outing from their bullpen. The series shifted to Wrigley Field on Monday for Game 3.

That’s when the Cubs took control of the series. They had an offensive explosion, hitting six home runs in the game. Kyle SchwarberStarlin CastroKris BryantAnthony RizzoJorge Soler, and Dexter Fowler all went deep for the Cubs. The six home runs in a single postseason game set a new MLB postseason record. The Cubs offense picked up Jake Arrieta, who was surprisingly didn’t have a good start. The Cubs ace only lasted 5 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs on five hits. The man who allowed only two earned runs the entire month of September actually had a bad start. Michael Wacha and the other Cardinals pitchers couldn’t couldn’t capitalize on Arrieta’s struggles however, and the Cubs won the game 8-6.

The Cardinals wouldn’t go down in the series without a fight. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in Game 4. The Cubs responded in the bottom of the second inning with an RBI single by their pitcher Jason Hammel. The next batter was Javier Baez, and he took  John Lackey deep for a three-run homer to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. Unlike Game 1, the Cubs were actually able to get to Lackey. The Cardinals still would not die however. They tied the game in the top of the sixth with RBIs from Tony Cruz and Brandon Moss. Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs the lead back in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. Kyle Schwarber padded the lead in the bottom of the seventh with a towering home run that landed on top of the video board in right field. That home run pretty much sealed the deal for the Cubs. The bullpen finished the job. The Cubs had finally clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field.

Before Tuesday, the Cubs had never clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field in the field’s 100 year history. The team last won the World Series back in 1908. Before this postseason, they had only won one postseason series since 1908. That was in 2003 when they beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS in five games to advance to the NLCS. They were unable to get to the World Series that year, as they were beaten by the then Florida Marlins in seven games. What everyone remembers about that series though was the infamous “Steve Bartman incident”. The Cubs have been a franchise more remembered for the negative things that have happened to them over the years rather than the positive things. That’s mainly because not a lot of positive things have happened to them since 1908. So far, this year’s an exception.

This could finally be the year that the Cubs break the Curse of the Billy Goat. That of course was the curse put on the team by Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis when he was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley Field in 1945 because of the odor of his pet goat. Many Cubs fans attribute their team’s lack of success over the last 70 years to this curse. They haven’t been to the World Series since then, and have only won one playoff series. They have reason to believe the curse is real. We’ve witnessed the Curse of the Bambino be broken in the last decade. In fact, the Red Sox have won three World Series titles since 2004. Maybe it’s time for the Cubs to break their curse.

Whatever happens the rest of the way for the Cubs, this year was certainly a success. They went from being a last place team in 2014 to a Wild Card team in 2015. Manager Joe Maddon has his team in the NLCS in his first year managing in Chicago. He’s got a very talented young team that will be good for many years. In the coming weeks, we’ll find out if the Cubs have what it takes to win it all this year. The way they’re playing right now, they definitely have a good chance.

MLB Playoffs: What We Have Learned So Far

The playoffs are in full swing. Each division series is yet to be decided and we have at least two game fives, both in the American League. All four division series could feasibly have a Game 5. You would be hard pressed to find the last time that happened.

Here is what we have learned so far, a week into the playoffs.

1. The Royals, Like Last Year, Will Be a Tough Out

The Kansas City Royals were six outs from elimination last night, down 6-2 heading into the 8th inning. The Royals got baserunners on to start the 8th and the merry-go-round started. With the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer get base hits to score two runs. Then thanks to a Carlos Correa error, two more runs scored to tie the game at 6. Alex Gordon drove in a run with a ground out and Eric Hosmer sealed the deal with a two-run home run, giving the Royals a 9-6 lead and eventually a win to tie the series.

In both wins in this series for Kansas City, the Astros had at least a two-run lead. These Royals are resilient and will not go down quietly, much like the 2014 American League Champion version. With Wednesday’s game being in Kansas City and Johnny Cueto on the mound, the Astros should be nervous after having a 2-1 series lead.

2. Different Year, Same Problems For Dodgers

For the past three years the Dodgers seemingly cruised to an NL West division title with good bats and a top-heavy rotation led by Clayton Kershaw. In the past two postseasons, the pitching has sunk the Dodgers with a very un-Kershaw like performance.

The Dodgers are down 2-1 to the New York Mets with an elimination game in New York tonight. Kershaw allowed three runs and walked four in Game 1’s loss. He has a chance to redeem himself tonight. Greinke and Kershaw in the first two games combined for five earned runs in 13 innings. For a normal 1-2 duo, that isn’t bad but for two pitchers who were in the heat of the Cy Young race, we should expect more, especially in the playoffs.

3. The Cubs Could Actually Do This

The Chicago Cubs passed the first test, winning the Wild Card Game on the road in Pittsburgh. Now they are facing the mighty Cardinals who led the major leagues with 100 wins. They have a 2-1 lead thanks to a six-homer performance in Game 3.

The Cubs are one win away from the NLCS. They will have to beat John Lackey to do it (Lackey pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 1). Behind Kyle Schwarber’s bat (two home runs in postseason) and Jake Arrieta (two wins in two starts), the Cubs are gunning to end a 107-year drought. If they can top the MLB’s best regular season team, their path gets a lot clearer.

4. Whoever Wins the Rangers/Blue Jay Series Will Be a Handful

This turned out to be one of the better division series in recent memory, and that is before we play Game 5. The average runs scored between these two teams in this series is 9. The Blue Jays won the latest slugfest 8-4 thanks to three home runs and six total extra-base hits.

Whoever wins this series will be a tough out in the ALCS and possibly World Series. Both teams have the tools to make it happen. Adrian Beltre is swinging a hot bat for Texas and the Rangers will throw ace Cole Hamels in Game 5 in Toronto on Wednesday. He has been in these situations before, winning the 2008 World Series with the Phillies and being the MVP of that postseason. The Rangers could ride him to the ALCS and beyond.

The Blue Jays have the deepest lineup in the league starting with Josh Donaldson, who is likely the AL MVP. In a win-or-go-home kind of game, this lineup would scare anyone.

 

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NL Wild Card Recap-Arrieta cannonballs the Jolly Roger

Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, the Pirates were shutout in the NL Wild Card game for the second year in a row. The Cubs Jake Arrieta went the distance in a 4-0 victory that did feature some excitement which was missing from the AL Wild Card game the night before.

The NL Cy Young contender nicked Francisco Cervilli in the 5th inning with a 94-mph heater that sent the Pirates catcher to the ground. In the 6th inning Arrieta hit Josh Harrison with a breaking ball near the shoulder. Trailing 4-0, the Pirates would load the bases in the 6th giving them their best threat of the night, but Starling Marte grounded into a crushing inning ending double play to kill the rally.

The Pirates were none to happy with the plunkings and their inability to hit a pitcher who is the best in baseball right now. Only Zack Greinke Cy Young voters dare to disagree. With two outs in the 7th inning the Pirates’ Tony Watson hit Arrieta in the side. Arrieta provided a glare, the benches cleared, the bullpens emptied which never ever makes sense, and before you knew it Pirates infielder Sean Rodriguez’s throat was inadvertently in the grasp of Cubs catcher David Ross. It was Rodriguez who was ejected for throwing punches that didn’t land while most everybody else stood around or tried to hold others back for dramatic effect. Rodriguez later connected several times against a more stationary Gatorade cooler in the dugout. It was a way better promotion for Gatorade than the dumb bottles that sit in front of the manager during the postgame press conferences.

You really can’t fault the fight of a 98-win Pirates team that felt another night of frustration in a wild card game. They had ten more wins than in 2014, but still finished 2-games behind the Cardinals setting up another must win playoff game.

Following the melee, Arrieta swiped 2nd base, but did not score. He then had the audacity to return to mound and not let the Pittsburgh score over the final three innings. In the process he matched the feat Madison Bumgarner pulled off against the Pirates in last year’s wild card game, a complete game shutout. Arrieta’s final line was an 11 K, 4-hitter with no walks.

The Pirates’ Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60, 202/44 K/BB) is really good, but not on Wednesday. The Cubs Kyle Schwarber has been hitting under .220 since the beginning of August, but singled home Dexter Fowler in the 1st inning. Schwarber then homered home Dexter Fowler in the 3rd. The Cubs finished off the lump that was Cole when Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer in the 5th to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead. Fowler was 3 for 4 with 3 runs scored and a steal. Schwarber had the two hits and three RBIs. Other than that, only catcher Miguel Montero and shortstop Addison Russell collected a hit for the Cubbies.

It’s on to the NLDS where the Cubs will play the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time ever in the postseason. It’s a fact that will be overblown and mentioned way too many times. It’s not that big of a deal unless you want to pick on the Cubs for only making the postseason 5 times since Division Series play began in 1995, while the Cardinals have been in the playoffs 13 times. It’s certainly not the Cardinals fault the two teams haven’t met over that time period.

In fairness to the Cubs they have played in the Cardinals division every year since 1969 making postseason play impossible until 2005. Before that the two teams were partnered in the NL dating back to 1892 when the Cards were the Browns and the Cubs were the Colts. Once again that made postseason series play impossible.

What also seems impossible is Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236/48 K/BB) ever losing again. An odd declaration for a pitcher whose previous career high in wins was 10 in 2011 and 2014. Sure he’s just one pitcher and the Cubs will need more than him in order to keep winning this postseason, but consider the numbers. Dating back to his June 21st start Arrieta has allowed as many as three earned runs in a game just once over a 20-start span. In 11 of those outings he didn’t allow an earned run. A big doughnut. He was 6-5 back in mid-June, but finished the year 22-6. Well, make that 23-6 after sinking the Jolly Roger on Wednesday.

The Cubs’ Jon Lester and Cardinals’ John Lackey are slated to pitch in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. If you’re already tired of the Cubs, hate the Cardinals, and love pitching then stick with the Mets and Dodgers series where nobody figures to score.

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