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Cubs Opening Night Lineup Speculation; Maddon Keeps Us Guessing

Posted on 02 April 2015 by Bob

Just three days out from Opening Day and the suspense is killing us! To pass  the time until meaningful games commence let’s speculate on the Cubs Opening Day lineup vs. Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals.

OUR PICKS

Dexter Fowler

1. CF Dexter Fowler: The lead-off position should be the easiest pick as Fowler was brought in specifically by the Cubs to get on base early and set the table for the power hitters in the 3 – 5 positions. Fowler enters 2015 with a career .366 On Base Percentage meaning the Cubs have upgraded at the position and he’s a switch-hitter to boot, giving the Cubs added flexibility at the top of the order.

2. RF Jorge Soler: While some sites project him in the cleanup spot, it’s hard to see Maddon starting a rookie there when early on he will be much more valuable in the 2-hole with his aggressive approach, getting on base so the Cubs proven All-Stars behind him can drive him in. By all accounts, Soler can play and some believe he will battle teammate Kris Bryant for  Rookie of the Year honors. If he gets hot early, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him move into the heart of the lineup but for now he starts at #2.

3. 1B Anthony Rizzo: He will be the glue that holds this thing together. As he matures, it’s not out of the question to see him put up even bigger numbers than his All-Star campaign last year. With formidable hitters in front of him expect to see his RBI’s increase from 78 a year ago and if he can duplicate his Top Ten performance in Home Runs in 2014, these Cubs could make some noise.

Starlin-Castro

4. SS Starlin Castro: Would love to see him continue on an upward trajectory from last year and with Addison Russell waiting in the wings it will be imperative for Starlin to have a big year not only for himself but for the team as well. After his first healthy spring in years, expect Castro to get off to a good start.

5. C Miguel Montero: Another Cubs’ off-season acquisition and another 2014 All-Star in the heart of the order. Montero provides an upgrade not only with his catching ability but his bat is also an upgrade over Wellington Castillo who may be moved early on this season. The catch is if David Ross, Opening Day Starter Jon Lester’s former battery mate in Boston, is called upon to catch the lefty Sunday night. If so, Ross, who has a much weaker bat, would be bumped further down the lineup.

Here’s where it gets tricky given the injuries and the versatility of Arismendy Alcantara and Maddon’s penchant for tinkering with batting order. Given his hot spring we’ll give the nod to:

6. LF Matt Szczcur: Batted .348 with 5 home runs and 9 RBI’s in 20 Cactus league games. With injuries to Chris Denorfia and Chris Coghlan, perhaps Maddon will ride the hot hand in giving Szczur a shot.

Mike Olt

7. 3B Mike Olt: What a difference a year makes as Olt enters Opening Day as the Cubs starting third basemen for the second straight year. He had an excellent spring and appears to have regained the confidence he lacked throughout last season. Many believe he is just a placeholder until Bryant is called up but if Olt can ride his warm spring into a hot summer perhaps all the time Bryant has spent in the outfield as of late will not be for naught.

8. P Jon Lester: Call it the Maddon Effect but it’s this line of thinking that got him hired in the first place. Maybe he holds off on this for Opening Day but my guess is you will see Jon Lester batting 8th enabling Maddon to squeeze the most out of the top of the order.

9. 2B Arismendy Alcantara: Some view Tommy La Stella as a viable option at second base but for now Alcantara seems like the safer choice for opening day given his versatility and the power he displayed last year slugging 10 home runs in 70 games. The fact that he could be moved around the infield or outfield tells me he will find his way on to this Opening Day roster and will be a vital cog in the Cubs machine as a jack of all trades this year.

So there you have it folks, our guess as to what you will likely see as the Cubs begin the season Sunday night. Agree or disagree, the Cubs have talent and options this year, two things that have been scarce in these parts for the last five years. It will be interesting to watch this take shape as the year unfolds. Here’s to hoping for some consistency, nice surprises, and a fun to watch team that can manufacture some runs.

CBmxPOaWIAATyCA

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Bryant to Start Season in Triple-A as Expected

Posted on 30 March 2015 by Bob

The Chicago Cubs made it official today trimming Kris Bryant and Javy Baez from the Major League roster and sending the pair to Triple-A Iowa as well as moving Addison Russell to minor league camp. Although the Baez move is intriguing given his call up late last year to the majors, these moves should surprise no one. It has been a foregone conclusion from day one that no matter what Bryant did he would be starting the season in Iowa. This is a service time issue and the Cubs weren’t going to trade 2 weeks of Bryant now for 6 months in 2021. Ask any reasonable Cubs fan and I guarantee you this move neither shocks nor offends them. Those columnists feigning outrage over the alleged disservice the Cubs are doing to their fans are simply sensationalizing a pretty cut and dry line of reasoning in the pursuit of controversial, eye-grabbing headlines.

Bryant

Yes, Bryant is one of the Cubs’ 25 best players and yes, he had the best spring of arguably anyone in baseball but I’d rather see Bryant in Cubbie Blue in 2021 than a few weeks earlier than I already will this year. I think even deep down that Bryant might be OK with this move. It gives him time to get in a good groove, demolishing minor league-early season pitching and then ascending at the right time to his spot in the Major League lineup potentially missing the hype-filled debut and subsequent lump-taking which befalls so many young rookies making the leap into the League (or at the very least minimizing those lumps).

Of course Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, will tell you otherwise and the talking heads will tell you that the Cubs are only hurting themselves but the fact is that those in favor of his inclusion in the Opening Day lineup are either in it for the money or they simply cannot wait any longer to see what the hype is about and actually have some copy that doesn’t contain the words: “Kris Bryant” and “Cubs prospect” in the same sentence.  They will get their wish soon enough and something tells me that come July all this will all be an after-thought.

As for Baez, it’s pretty clear that for all his power and promise he won’t be doing anyone any good with all those strikeouts. It’s best to have him work out those issues in Triple A for a bit instead of attempting to break the strikeout record with a full year in the majors. He needs more time, as does Russell. The Cubs aren’t going to change their system no matter how extraordinary the talent surging up their ranks has proven to be.

Cubs fans should rejoice.  A new season is upon us with some actual reasons to cheer.  Next year is almost here and it’s an important one.

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Bryant To Play Left Field Today As Cubs Tinker With the Pieces of the Puzzle

Posted on 26 March 2015 by Bob

Cubs prospect Kris Bryant is set to play left field today as the Cubs take on the LA Angels marking the first time Bryant has played anywhere but third base since turning professional. While some might be hesitant to change positions, especially moving from infield to outfield, it sounds as though Bryant is open to whatever it takes to not only see the field but also put the Cubs in the best position to succeed.

Kris Bryant

“Talking to Kris on a one-on-one level he really wants the chance to play out there, which I kind of somewhat like,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He actually wanted to. That makes it easier.” Easier indeed, as the Cubs face a logjam of infield talent with only three open spots and double the candidates to fill them.

It is assumed in most knowledgeable circles that Bryant, when called up, will start the season at third base but could see time in the outfield as the Cubs tinker with where to put all this talent on the rise. With guys like Javy Baez, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Addison Russell, and Mike Olt the Cubs will have a plethora of combinations to try out in hopes of putting the most successful unit on the field. Flexibility will be key, as Alcantara has already shown, in maximizing output and avoiding redundancies.

Of course with the way Bryant swings the bat, leading all hitters with nine home runs and 15 RBIs in just 28 at-bats, the Cubs will be just fine with wherever he plays. Opening day is just over a week away. Then begins the real countdown to see just what Kris Bryant can do.

 

 

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Lester Sharp Again as Cubs Get 1st “W”

Posted on 12 March 2015 by Bob

Jon Lester looked every bit the player the Cubs had hoped for in his second Cactus League start throwing first-pitch strikes to ten of the eleven batters to step into the box and demonstrating the laser-sharp focus this team needs to start the year out right. “If you’re out there pumping strikes, especially that first pitch, guys are already going up there either on the defense or up there hacking,” Lester said, as he aims to dominate the strike zone early and often. His aggressiveness paid off in the Cubs picking up their first win of this young season.

Jon Lester

Miguel Montero caught Lester for the first time on Wednesday as the duo gave up only three hits and struck out two with no runs allowed through three innings setting the tone for the 4-3 win over Zack Greinke, Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers. Mike Olt has been the breakout star of spring training thus far with a .400 batting average after collecting two more hits.

With the monkey off their back, the Cubs can now turn to playing sound fundamental baseball and doing the little things right to make Manager Joe Maddon happy. “Physical mistakes are fine,” Maddon said “The mental mistakes will kill you. Physical mistakes are part of this game. Mental mistakes have no part in this game.”

The learning process continues as coaches and players get a feel for one another. It’s preferable to take their lumps now and be ready to go come April 5th. There are glimmers, here and there, but we still haven’t seen the Cubs put it all together. Keeping up their focus will go a long ways toward helping this team gel and hopefully not go so long before earning their next win.

Mike Olt

Next Up: Jason Hammel makes his second start against Sean Newcomb and the LA Angels today at 2:10PM CST.

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Young Cubs Come to Play in Spring League Debut

Posted on 06 March 2015 by Bob

Yesterday’s Cactus League debut was a good one for Cubs’ youngsters Mike Olt, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber with at-bats producing a strike-out, a fly-out, and grand slam respectively. The two former AB’s don’t sound so great taken out of context but situationally they show the growth required for these young Cubs to succeed at the Major League level. The grand slam is the cherry on top.

Mike Olt

Mike Olt’s strikeout came in his second at-bat(His first being a 2 run homer by the way). He worked the count to three and two before fouling off several pitches and eventually striking out on a change-up. At face value this sequence might not seem great but seeing a high number of pitches and battling pitchers deep into counts is precisely the medicine Cubs’ hitters need to improve their offense from a year ago. Especially from Olt; He of 100 strikeouts last season and demotion to the minors to work on his game. Olt needs to exhibit this type of plate discipline if he is to live up to the potential which brought him over in the Matt Garza trade.

Javier Baez

Baez, who has worked on shortening his swing this offseason, produced what appears on paper as an insignificant fly-out after two missed strikes but putting the ball in play is the preferred outcome over strike three in the catcher’s mitt. A scene Baez witnessed more than enough times last season despite not even being called up until August. These may seem like little things but it is the little things the Cubs need to improve upon in order to take the leap to playoff contender. Baez still seems like a wild card at this point. I don’t know how he fits into the Cubs’ future plans with a slog of middle infielders already in the Cubs system, but improving his plate discipline and getting on base will go a long way towards proving he can be the Cubs future at second base.

Kyle Schwarber

As for Schwarber, his Grand slam in his first spring at-bat is a welcome introduction; “Load ‘em up and drive em in” as they say. Getting on base is key but then you have to drive them in. Schwarber seems intent on doing just so even drawing comparisons to Kris Bryant within the Cubs organization. It’s only the first day but signs of improvement abound.

NEXT UP:
The Cubs take on Cincinnati today, which as of this moment is tied 0-0 in the 5th.
Saturday and Sunday, the Cubs take on the Rockies and Rangers respectively.

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Kris Bryant and the #1 Ranked Chicago Cubs Farm System

Posted on 05 February 2015 by Bob

.Kris Bryant

ESPN’s Keith Law has released his yearly preseason farm system rankings and your very own Chicago Cubs are Numero Uno with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell leading the charge. This should come as no surprise after the year the Cubs just had off the field in assembling what Law described as “ the strongest collection of top-shelf hitting prospects I can remember since I started working in baseball”.

Last July the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for an excellent prospect in the shortstop Russell to pair with overall top prospect Kris Bryant. These two alone are what get Cubs fans giddy but add in other recent callups, Jorge Soler and Javy Baez, and young talents, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora and it’s plain to see that the Cub’s cupboard is stocked. Now obviously farm system rankings don’t translate into World Series wins and although loaded with hitting prospects they can’t all take the field at the same time. There will be moves made over the course of the next year that remove some redundancies and hopefully bring in Major League-ready pitching.

Year Four with Theo Epstein at the helm appears to be the year the Cubs will make a big leap back into contention and Cubs fans have Epstein’s baseball acumen and talent evaluation to thank.

Addison Russell

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Sold Out Cubs Convention Kicks Off Today

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Lou

Anthony_Rizzo_Cubs_Prediction

The Sold Out Cubs Convention kicks off today at the Chicago Sheraton & Towers.  Wish I was there to get a glimpse at Manager Joe Maddon and ace Lefty Jon Lester — there will probably be a lot of buzz surrounding the team this weekend.

Here’s a good little schedule of what to expect this – the “Friday Night with Ryan Dempster” would probably be pretty entertaining too.  That guys is a riot and now that he’s no longer playing, he can probably be even more candid than he usually is.

Not sure how thrilled I am that Anthony Rizzo predicted that the Cubs would knock off the Cards and Pirates for the NL Central Division title this year.  I’m sure Maddon and Theo & Co. are even less thrilled than me.  But you gotta like the confidence: “It’s what we’re going to do.  We’re going to to play and we’re going to win the NL Central, you can quote me on that. We should be the team, with all due respect to every other team, we’re going to do some things this year. That’s what we’re going to put our sights on and we’re not going to accept anything else.” WOW!

It will be interesting to see if anyone else makes some bold claims like Rizzo during the course of the Cubs convention weekend.  We’ll keep you posted and Go Cubs Go!

Anthony_Rizzo_Cubs_Prediction_2

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Starlin Castro’s Off-Season Incidents Pile Up: Will It Hurt The Cubs?

Posted on 30 December 2014 by Bob

Starlin-Castro

While the Cubs have been seemingly quiet since the David Ross signing a week and a half ago, they entered the news cycle in a negative way shortly after the Christmas holiday as Starlin Castro was questioned by police in his native Dominican Republic regarding a shooting at a nightclub on December 27th that left one person in serious condition. Police believe Castro may be close to those that were involved in the shooting. This comes on the heels of a report earlier this month that Castro had been cleared of any involvement in another shooting that occurred in Santiago Caballeros. While Castro was not arrested, the Cubs can’t be pleased that his name keeps popping up in incidents like these, especially given the positive buzz the Cubs have fostered as of late, not to mention potential trade impact should the Cubs find a deal for Castro that bowls them over.

Castro’s agent Paul Kinzer, in speaking with MLB Network radio, confirmed that Castro may be trying to find a permanent residence in the US to avoid issues such as these. These incidents coupled with the death of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras in a car crash this past October, where Taveras had a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit, has to have teams and executives around the league considering their options in protecting their investments in these players as they return to the DR in the offseason.

Either way, let’s hope there are no lingering issues as we turn the calendar page and embark upon the 2015 season which is setting up to be quite exciting. Hopefully we will be hearing about more deals to bolster the rotation and locker room, and less about off-field incidents and problems.

david-ross-chicago-cubs-jon-lester-boston-red-sox

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Not the Way Theo & Co. Drew It Up…

Posted on 17 November 2014 by Lou

Theo_Epstein

Theo & Co. and the Cubs thought that maybe they had caught the rest of the league by surprise with a “big trade” late Sunday afternoon.  The Cubs dealt Arodys Vizcaino back to the Atlanta Braves (they had acquired him just a few months after Tommy John surgery during the 2012 trade deadline for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson) for 2nd baseman Tommy La Stella.  I have my issues with this trade for a few reasons (see below), but was glad that they were being proactive before the “big moves” this winter.

I was still licking my chops for the big signings of Russell Martin and Jon Lester sometime this week and maybe even a bigger splash with a blockbuster trade for a Cole Hamels, Giancarlo Stanton or a Jason Heyward.

But then all hell broke loose on Monday.  The Braves announced that they had traded Heyward to our hated rivals — the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cards had had to give up Shelby Miller for Heyward, but it was still like getting stabbed in the back.

Then the Toronto Blue Jays announced that they had enticed “our” catcher, Canadian Russell Martin up across the border with the promise of a 5th guaranteed year and a whopping $82 million. Ouch.  Guess that was too rich for our blood.

Now our big trade for uber-on-base guy La Stella isn’t even one of the Top 20 ESPN MLB stories anymore…

That leads me back to my issues with the La Stella trade.  Don’t we have enough middle infielders already — Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Arismendy Alcantara?  Why do we need another guy there?  Sure I love his on-base percentage numbers, but his numbers dipped big time after teams had time to really scout him.  In his 1st 46 games in the majors last season, La Stella hit .297 with a .747 OPS.  But check out what happened in his final 47 games of the season — .201 batting average with a .534 OPS.  Not good.

Couple that with giving up one of our “power arms” who really helped solidify our bullpen in 2014, this trade concerns me.  Theo & Co. have raved up Vizcaino and how good he looked in Triple-A in 2014 and how close he was to really contributing at the big league level.  You’re gonna give that up for a utility infielder who isn’t gonna play everyday?  No way.

This wreaks of a trade which leads to another trade.  Maybe Baez or Alcantara or both are going to be moved in order to acquire a Cole Hamels, a Jordan Zimmerman or a Zach Wheeler.  Having La Stella step in as your everyday 2nd baseman is a conservative, stable move, full well knowing that you’ll have Kris Bryant up pretty soon in April to bolster your offense.

Guess we’ll have to be patient and see what happens.  We’ll keep you posted as soon as anything breaks…

 

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We’re Back! Cubs Ready To Contend In 2015…

Posted on 03 November 2014 by Lou

Theo_Epstein

Well, here we go again.  It’s been just shy of 2 years — but I’m finally ready to jump back on that “Cubs-writing horse” again.

At least my last post back on December 20th, 2012 –YES 2012! — was pretty much right on.  The Cubs were on the verge of signing Edwin Jackson to a 4-year, $52 million deal.  I was besides myself.  The Cubs had lost 91 games in 2011 and then 101 games in 2012.  Theo & Co. were preaching a good old-fashioned rebuild.  They lost out on the Anibel Sanchez sweepstakes to the more competitive Detroit Tigers.  Fine I get it – you swing and missed on a solid starter.  But did that mean you had to go sign Edwin Jackson to a bad contract?! Hell No!  But they did anyway. And as I predicted, it was a bad move (in 2013, Jackson went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA and 1.46 WHIP and in 2014, Jackson went 6-15 with a 6.33 ERA and 1.64 WHIP). And that was it – I could not bear to continue to vent about this team any longer.

But 683 days later, I have finally put that all behind me.  Cubby Blue forever, right?  It hasn’t been easy, but I feel like Theo & Co. are back on course.  Theo acknowledged his Jackson-signing-mistake and vowed never to make a rash decision like that, just to make a move that might placate the fan base.

Sure the Cubs lost 96 games in 2013.  But they continued the re-build the right way with key trades to acquire young talent (Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, etc,).  After the 2013 season, , the Cubs swung and missed on the Tanaka sweepstakes, but they learned from their Edwin Jackson mess and stayed true to the re-build.  They didn’t go take their Tanaka money and spent it on one or 2 lower tier players.  They kept it for a rainy day (see “rainy day” signing of Joe Maddon below).

Sure the Cubs lost 89 games in 2014.  But they continued the re-build the right way with key trades to acquire young talent (Addison Russell, Bill McKinney, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, etc.).  There was a different vibe in the clubhouse and in Wrigley Field, as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo returned to All-Star form.  They were as excited as heck when they won, and never sank too low when they lost.  Manager Rick Renteria wasn’t perfect, but he had a great attitude for the task at hand.  And that positive attitude resonated with his players.  And when Tampa Rays manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract just a little over a week ago, the Cubs had the perfect chance to land a manager who could lead them all the way back to contention.  Sure it may not have been the most popular move in some circles, but Theo had a decision to make for the “organization” not just for “one player” or “one coach” or “one executive” or “one fan” like me.  And if landing one of the best managers in baseball meant you had to fire a respected manager like Renteria, then it had to be done for the good of the organization.

So it all comes full circle from the whole Edwin Jackson signing debacle.

It reminded Theo & Co. that one move was not going to turn the Cubs into perennial World Series front-runners.

It reminded Theo & Co. that they needed to stay true to a well-formulated plan.

It reminded Theo & Co. that not all of their moves were going to be popular with the team or with the fans.  Fans were mad when the Cubs traded away Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel (and the list could go on and on).  But look where they are now because Theo & Co. made those unpopular trades.

Some fans are mad that they sought another manager even when Rick Renteria was still under contract.  Some fans are mad that they are paying $25 million over 5 years to Joe Maddon when they think the Cubs should be paying more money to players that actually perform on the field.  But let’s look at that $25 million as 1 year of the Tanaka deal that never happened thereby giving Theo & Co. the financial means necessary to land a manager with the caliber of Maddon without comprising the pool of funds that can still be used to land productive players on the field.

We will have to see how the 2014 off-season moves all shake out, but I have a pretty good feeling that the number of losses in 2015 will be considerably less than the 89 losses in 2014.  And given my perfect prediction on how the whole Edwin Jackson signing would turn out, you can take that to the bank…

Joe_Maddon

 

 

 

 

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