Category Archives: Chicago Cubs

Travis Wood is officially broken

Barring an improbable run from 14.5 back from the second Wild Card spot, the wins and losses don’t matter for the Cubs the rest of this season. So the Cubs 9-6 loss to the Cardinals yesterday is disheartening but not devastating.

What does matter are signs that the foundation pieces are doing well. And when you look at yesterday’s game from that perspective you get a mixed bag. Good on Antony Rizzo (2-4, 3-run HR) and Starlin Castro, and bad on Travis Wood.

The good: Castro has been miserable during July, hitting .222/.267/.370. He’s seen his average dip down into the low .280’s, which as strange as it sounds is odd to see. But maybe yesterday will be a jumping off point for him to get hot again. He went 3-4 with a triple. Being aggressive is in Castro’s baseball DNA and considering what he’s already accomplished in the majors he shouldn’t completely change it. But developing some more plate discipline would be huge, and it wouldn’t hurt to see his OBP not mirror his average.

That being said, in the “incredibly small, positive signs” category falls his first at bat yesterday. With a man on third and no out (a situation the Cubs seemingly always squander) Castro took five straight pitches to put himself in a 3-2 count. He then fouled off two Lance Lynn pitches and  hit a RBI single on the eighth pitch of the at bat. That kind of patience in an important, run-scoring situation is encouraging. And yes, I realize how pathetic it is to fixate on a first inning at bat of a loss, but that’s what we have to work with right now.

The bad: Wood, on the other hand, continued a downward spiral, allowing 8 earned runs over five innings. I’m not going to claim to be a pitching expert, but I can point out that according to Fangraphs, Wood has been throwing his slider much less, and his fastball much more during this bad streak (for whatever that is worth). He’s allowing more balls to leave the park, as he’s given up 9 home runs over his last three starts (including 5 yesterday).

He’s definitely looked the part of at worst a five starter thus far, especially since he’s left-handed. But that great four start stretch from the middle of June to the beginning of July has me wanting more. It’ll be something to follow as the season drones on.

 

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Cubs-Cardinals weekend preview

Game 1 (Friday, 1:20 p.m.): Lance Lynn (12-4, 3.10) v. Travis Wood (4-5, 4.33)

Game 2 (Saturday, 12:05 p.m.): Joe Kelly (1-3, 2.78) v. Jeff Samardzija (7-8, 4.25)

Game 3 (Sunday, 1:05 p.m.): Adam Wainwright (8-10, 4.31) v. Paul Maholm (9-6, 3.88)

Season series: Cardinals lead 7-4, outscoring the Cubs 63 to 33 in the process.

Overall: It’s odd to have two Cub-Cardinal weekend series in a row with no Sunday night game. But such is life when the Cubs aren’t holding up their end of the competitive bargain.

The Cubs recent string of good play at home has vaulted them above .500 at Wrigley (24-21). But should they repeat the 23-1 shellacking they took last weekend in St. Louis they’ll find themselves right back at .500.

It’s interesting that the Cardinals have outscored the Cubs by 30 this year, yet have “only” won 7 of the 11 games. With a run differential like that you’d figure they’d have won nearly all the games. But the 12-0 and 7-0 blowouts last weekend amount to a good chunk of that differential.

The Cardinals offense has been their strength this year, as they lead the majors in  team OBP (.342) and are second in BA (.274). The strength of their pitching staff has been the All-Star and former Ole Miss Rebel Lynn, who has rebounded from a rough stretch. From the middle to end of June he had three starts in which he gave up 5, 6, and 6 runs, and didn’t go more than 5 innings in any of those games.

Wood needs to rebound. Image courtesy zimbio.com.

But unfortunately for the Cubs he has bounced back nicely. In his past three games he has gone 19 innings giving up only one run (including 6 shutout innings against the Cubs last Sunday). In fact this season Lynn is 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA against the Cubs. He’ll be opposed by Wood, who is taking Matt Garza‘s spot in the rotation. Wood has had two bad outings in a row, and this will be a big start to see if he can stabilize and continue what otherwise has been a fine first year in Chicago.

Samardzija has been better at home this season (3-3, 3.68 ERA, 3.29 K/BB as opposed to 4-5, 4.71, 2.42 K/BB on the road), so it’ll be nice to see him back at Wrigley. He’ll be opposed by Kelly, who has been very effective in the first eight starts of his career. Of course the Cardinals have a call-up contributing immediately, right? No matter how much their system gets slammed they always pull productive players out of thin air. It’s infuriating.

Anthony Rizzo is my player to watch for the Cubs (but isn’t he always?). This will be the second team he’s seen for the second time (the Mets were the first), and he did okay in St. Louis last weekend, going 3-12 with a walk. He’d been in a power slump since the break, but broke out of that with a home run on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. I’ll be interested in this series, and the rest of the year, to see how he fares as teams see him more and more. Can he stay one step ahead of the league, so that he adjusts to it before it adjusts to him?

For the Cardinals my player to watch is Allen CraigMatt HollidayYadier Molina, and Carlos Beltran are big names, and so is David Freese after last October. All are having good seasons, but so is the semi-unheralded Craig. Mike Matheny has had trouble getting him in the lineup, because he’s basically a corner outfield/first base guy, and thus a challenge is presented with Holliday, Beltran and Lance Berkman on the roster.

But when Craig has gotten in games he has hit, and hit well (.299/.365/.570). He’s also hit it hard with 14 HR’s and 18 2B’s in 249 plate appearances. His .936 OPS is tied with Holliday for the team lead. Matheny will need to channel some of that maddening Tony La Russa creativity to get Craig more playing time.

As The(o’s) World Turns: The Dempster saga continues

The Ryan Dempster trade saga has become a tough situation to stomach as the Los Angeles Dodgers can completely dictate any deal that might be made. Ned Colleti isn’t stupid, he knows that if the Cubs want any return for Dempster it can only come from the Dodger system.

“What’s that Theo, you’ve got someone else calling about Dempster? Go ahead and take the call, I’ll wait.” – Ned Colleti. Image courtesy insidesocial.com

But even with the Dodgers virtually calling all the shots, it is still in the Cubs’ best interests to trade him. It has surfaced that the Cubs are considering keeping him and making him a 1-year/$12 million qualifying offer in the hope that he’ll decline and the Cubs will end up with a draft pick.

But this is most likely the team trying to drum up some leverage out of thin air. Ken Rosenthal writes that it is unlikely they’d ever make such an offer because they don’t want to risk being on the hook for $12 million.

Holding on to Dempster to then extend him doesn’t make any sense either. To begin with, he can simply resign with the Cubs even if he is traded. But even so, I’d say the Harry Caray statue is more likely to pitch for the Cubs in 2013 than Dempster. A pitcher close to being on the wrong side of 30 is not the type of guy Theo and Jed will be interested in. And what has transpired this week has probably soured both sides towards another. Dempster still has value, but not to a team like the Cubs at his current market price.

So that leaves us back where we started: the Cubs need to trade Dempster because it’s the only safe way to get something for him. And something is better than nothing, right?

Zach Lee, the highest rated Dodger prospect on MLB.com and Fangraphs.com, is the ultimate prize and his name had, quite obviously, surfaced as the Cubs main target. But given the Cubs’ current bargaining position it’ll be tough to land him. I have no clue if the Marlins were interested in him, but if they were and couldn’t get him for a former batting champ under contract for multiple seasons (Hanley Ramirez), then the Cubs have no chance. This is especially given the Dodgers need offense far more than starting pitching.

Still, Theo and Jed can add value to the system. If you look at those Dodger prospect lists you’ll see they are full of pitchers. While many of those guys likely won’t end up starting in the majors, there might be some effective future bullpen pieces in there.

The last few seasons there has been a parade of ineffective relievers shuttling back and forth from Iowa (think Scott Maine, Casey Coleman, etc.). And despite some recent success, the bullpen, and especially its depth, could use a major upgrade. Simply adding, semi well-regarded arms to the system would help, even if they never end up in the rotation.

I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about the Dodgers system. But given the situation, if the Cubs could get a package for Dempster which includes one or more of the pitchers on either list I’d be thrilled. Allen Webster‘s name popped up on Twitter yesterday, and based on the rankings a package centered around him would  be a solid return at this point.

This is mainly so because the alternative looks like Dempster signing elsewhere next season and leaving nothing but memories.

Mr. Clutch, also known as Luis Valbuena

Late in the Cardinals 12-run seventh inning last Saturday night (or inning from hell if you prefer), Dale Sveum took out Darwin Barney and moved Luis Valbuena over to second base. The conspiracy theorist in me (already active due to the Matt Garza injury-or-trade situation that evening) thought perhaps this was an audition should Barney be traded.

The Detroit Tigers were the only team I’d seen reported as being interested in Barney and  have since dealt for Omar Infante. So at this point it looks like Barney will be the Cubs second baseman for the foreseeable future. But has Valbuena played well enough to be in the Cubs’ plans past this season?

Valbuena has hit well with men on base. Image courtesy zimbio.com.

On a recent WGN pregame show (I can’t remember what day it was) Keith Moreland and Judd Sirott mentioned that Valbuena’s poor numbers (.204/.248/.354) are deceiving.

The crux of the conversation was that he hasn’t seen much to hit because he’s primarily hit eighth, and that when given a chance with men on base he has excelled.

To their credit, the stats back up (in part) what they said:

  • Bases empty (70 plate appearances): .171/.205/.271, 1 HR, 4 2B
  • Men on (48 plate appearances): .256/.313/.488, 2 HR, 4 2B
  • RISP (31 plate appearances): .346/.419/.692, 2 HR, 3 2B

Is Valbuena a sleeping giant buried at the bottom of the Cub lineup? His OPS is ridiculously higher with RISP (1.112) and men on (.801) than it is with the bases empty (.477). However, it’s probably safe to put talk of displacing Anthony Rizzo from the 3-spot on hold. That would be the sane thing to do considering his OPS over his career with both men on and RISP is under .680.

But these numbers, at least this season, suggest that Valbuena might be better than his numbers suggest. At 26 he is the same age as Barney, and has thus far looked good defensively at third. He’s spent the majority of his short career at second (173 games) and has some experience at short as well (32 games). So he has versatility to go along with that solid glove.

Valbuena is likely not long for third after this year because you want more power there. But I wouldn’t mind seeing him brought back to possibly compete with Barney for the second base job next Spring. Certainly he should be brought back to be a utility player off the bench. Third base will likely still be unsettled and it’d that much more valuable to have a guy who can play there as well as the middle infield positions effectively.

Should the Cubs find a decent bench player for the future out of Ian Stewart‘s wrist injury then that would be one of the few things Stewart contributed this season.

As The(o’s) World Turns

Just a few quick thoughts on some of the trade rumors swirling about on the interwebs and other more traditional news outlets.

Randall Delgado: Future Cub? (photo courtesy of braves.com)

Ryan Dempster to Atlanta for Randall Delgado

What looked yesterday to be a done deal, this trade is currently in-limbo waiting on Dempster’s approval.  A couple of things stand out here.  First, I think this would be a great deal for the Cubs if it works out.  The initial reaction on the twittersphere when rumors of the deal first broke were something along the lines of “NO WAY the Braves trade such a highly regarded prospect for a rent-a-player like Dempster.”  By all accounts, the deal represents great value for the Cubs.  A second point to consider is the current holdup of the deal.  Apparently Dempster is more than a bit miffed at the way the front office has handled the situation.  He even took to Twitter in an effort to dispel the rumors.  My primary concern with the current dissension is that it could scuttle a really good deal for the club.  Beyond that, even if the deal does go through, Dempster’s unhappiness with the manner in which the whole situation was handled could significantly impair the Cubs’ chances of resigning him after he becomes a free agent at season’s end.

Matt Garza to the Dodgers for Zach Lee (and others)

For as great of a deal as the Dempster-Delgado trade appears to be, I am far more tepid when it comes to potentially shipping Garza off for a highly regarded, yet completely unproven pitcher in the form of Zach Lee.  For whatever reason, the front office seems more than willing to part with Garza.  I have no problem with the idea in theory, but it seems very risky to trade away a top-of-the-rotation type pitcher for a greenhorn pitching prospect.  Early round high school pitching prospects are notoriously hit-and-miss, and being dealt for a known quantity such as Garza will only serve to heap even more pressure on Lee during the crucial next few seasons as he tries to develop into a legitimate major league pitcher.  For me at least, a minimum of one or two more good prospects would need to be included for the deal to make sense.  One potential hiccup could be the injury Garza picked up in his last outing against St. Louis over the weekend.

There have also been various rumors surrounding other players such as Darwin Barney and Paul Maholm.  More info on those as details become available.    

 

Back in the Saddle Again

So, about that unannounced two or three-month absence.  Yeah, we don’t want to talk about it, but we’re sorry (for whatever that’s worth).

But moving right along.  A lot has happened during our leave, some good and some bad, so it’s probably best to quickly run through and recap some of the more prominent highs and lows.  Just looking at the standings, the Cubs were in last place as of the last post (4/11) and today we sit one rung above the cellar.  That’s what we call progress.

Certainly that 12 game losing streak in mid-May was a terrible thing, and significantly contributed to our current sub-standard position in the standings.  But there have also been bright spots.  A solid stretch of games heading into the All Star break, plus a sweep of the Diamondbacks to kick-0ff the second half of the season, has provided glimmers of light in an otherwise dark and dreary abyss.

Speaking of the All Star break, the Cubs had two representatives, Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair.  As surprising as it was for a team with a record as poor as the Cubs to have two All Stars (and this doesn’t even account for Ryan Dempster and his NL-leading ERA), I was even more surprised that both Cubbies actually got to participate in the Mid-Summer Classic.  The reason for my shock was the fact that Tony LaRussa decided to don his transition lenses one final time and manage the NL squad.  It just seemed so out of character for him to do anything within his discretion that might be perceived as an act of kindness towards the Cubs.  I don’t know, maybe he was too caught up in screwing over the Brewers and Reds players in the selection process that he just simply forgot about the Cubs.  It didn’t really matter though, as the game was well in hand by the time Castro and LaHair made their uneventful appearances.  One final thought.  I was more than a little disappointed that LaHair was not named as the late substitute for the home run derby (Andrew McCutchen got the nod instead).  I just thought it would have been a classy move, given that this might very well be the only All Star appearance of his career.

And finally, probably the biggest talking point of all was the call-up of franchise savior Anthony Rizzo on June 26.  Since his promotion, Big Tony has been hitting at a .350 clip, while adding 4 homers and 10 RBIs.  It has certainly been a wonderful start and the transition has been seamless.  So seamless in fact the move required the Cubs to exile their All Star first baseman (LaHair) to right field.  Watching Rizzo’s progress over the second half of the season will be one of the most interesting story lines to follow.

With the trade deadline looming, look for the Cubs to be active participants.  And look no further than the The RedLine Roundup for coverage and analysis.

3/15 quick hitters, Cubs drop two in one day

Neither of the Cubs split squads could pick up a win yesterday, as the squad Rodrigo Lopez valiantly led into battle lost 7-5 t0 the Colorado Rockies, and the Ryan Dempster-led squad fell 12-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. As always, here’s what stood out:

  • Carlos Marmol had a steadier outing, possibly in part because of a conversation he had with apparent magic-worker Dale Sveum. Marmol struck out one, walked one and gave up one hit in one inning (that’s four “ones” if you are counting). Marmol seems from afar to be a “quietly emotional” player (as opposed to the “loudly emotional” Carlos Zambrano). Confidence has always seemed to be the key with him. A specific example I can remember is when he was struggling before the 2008 All-Star break, got an unexpected All-Star replacement selection and after the break went back to pitching well. Hopefully this is something Sveum realizes, and these little talks with Marmol will continue.
  • Junior Lake hit a 3-run home run, which was only his second hit in 12 at bats. We’ve seen everything we expected from the raw prospect this spring: power, speed (3 steals) and plate discipline that isn’t there yet (5 strikeouts). I’ve read that at his size (6’2” 215 lbs.) he isn’t destined to play shortstop. He seems a ways away from the big leagues but with the Cubs unsettled situation at third base, perhaps he has an eventual future there.
  • Catcher WatchGeovany Soto picked up his first two hits of the year. All three involved in the race to be his backup were in action because of the split squad day. Since I didn’t see the games I can’t comment on their defense (which is unfortunate because that’s probably more important). But at the plate Wellington Castillo had a walk and Steve Clevenger went hitless in one at bat. Michael Brenly did have a home run, which predictably made his father even happier than he is when Soto makes a fundamental block in the dirt: