Showing posts with label Anthony Rizzo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anthony Rizzo. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cubs rough up Indians starter Josh Tomlin, force Game 7 in World Series

Addison Russell
Well, Game 6 of the World Series sure was boring, wasn't it? The Cubs trounced the Cleveland Indians, 9-3, on Tuesday to even the series at 3.

This one was lopsided from the outset. So lopsided that I don't have anything nuanced to say about it. (Not that I ever do.) It was a strong performance by the Cubs, and a poor performance by the Indians. How's that for analysis?

Game 7 is Wednesday night in Cleveland.

You could tell that Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin just did not have it pitching on short rest from the very start of this game. Sure, he retired the first two hitters, but he hung a sloppy 0-2 curve to Kris Bryant, who deposited it in the left-field seats for a 1-0 Chicago lead.

Tomlin then hung a curve to Anthony Rizzo and left a changeup high in the zone to Ben Zobrist. Those two at-bats resulted in singles for the Cubs, and placed runners on first and third. The Indians' defense then failed Tomlin as center fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall stood and looked at each other as a lazy fly off the bat of Addison Russell fell in for a "two-run double."

Just like that, it was 3-0 Cubs. The game was essentially over there, but for good measure, the Cubs blew it open with four runs in the third inning

A walk and two singles to load the bases ended Tomlin's night, and Russell cleared 'em off with a grand slam off Cleveland reliever Dan Otero. 7-0. No drama on this night. Jake Arrieta worked 5.2 innings of two-run ball to get the win.

I did think it was interesting that Cubs manager Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning. The Chicago closer entered with two on and two out in a 7-2 game, and finished that inning by inducing a groundout by Francisco Lindor.

Chapman also pitched a scoreless eighth. After the Cubs got two in the ninth on a Rizzo home run, Chapman returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth and walked the leadoff man before departing. He threw 20 pitches and was charged with Cleveland's third and final run, which came across after he left the game in the ninth.

I'm certain Chapman will be available for Game 7. It's all hands on deck in these situations. But it's worth noting that Chapman threw 42 pitches in an eight-out save in Game 5, plus the 20 pitches in Game 6. That's a greater workload for him than usual. Will it matter? We'll see.

You can't really blame Maddon, because you can't win Game 7 if you don't get to Game 7, and I've never faulted a manager for going to his best reliever in a must-win situation. I do think there is some chance fatigue will catch up to Chapman, if he pitches Wednesday -- and I assume he will.

Momentum is on the side of the Cubs at this point. They've won the past two games. This victory in Game 6 was an overwhelming one. The Indians will now be forced to go to their ace, Corey Kluber, on short rest for Game 7. Kluber won Games 1 and 4 for Cleveland in this series, and like Chapman, we also have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. His mound opponent will be Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.

Two things that could help the Indians: 1) They are playing at home. Cheering fans don't win games, but all things being equal, you'd rather be at home than on the road in Game 7. And 2) Cleveland's top three relievers -- Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw -- did not appear in Game 6. They will be rested and ready to go. Indians manager Terry Francona could turn the game over to them as early as the fifth inning, if necessary.

So far this series has featured two epic games -- Games 3 and 5. Each team won one. The other four games have been lopsided, with each club taking two one-sided victories. Here's to hoping Game 7 is a close one, and not another snoozer.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cubs get away with two egregious mental mistakes, stave off elimination in Game 5

Anthony Rizzo
The 2016 Major League Baseball season will continue for at least another day, after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, on Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Game 5 of the World Series.

Cleveland's lead in the series is cut to 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.

The Cubs got this win with quality pitching. Jon Lester did what he is paid to do -- pitch well in big games. He limited the Tribe to two runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and didn't walk anybody. After a brief relief appearance by Carl Edwards in the seventh, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman recorded eight outs to pick up the save.

It was not easy for Chapman. The Indians got the tying run to second base in the seventh inning, and they got the tying run to third in the eighth. Both times, Chapman turned them away. The hard-throwing lefty then worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Jose Ramirez to close out the game.

The Cubs got three runs in the fourth inning off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, highlighted by a solo home run from Kris Bryant. Addison Russell had an RBI on an infield single, and David Ross added a sacrifice fly.

That said, I thought the Cubs were fortunate to get away with two egregious mental mistakes that just can't happen at this time of the season. One miscue was made by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth, the other by Chapman in the eighth.

After Bryant's home run tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Rizzo was the next hitter. He put a good swing on a pitch from Bauer and drove it to deep right field. He stood there, watched the ball, admired it, then slowly started to jog toward first base. Too bad the ball wasn't gone. It hit the wall, and Rizzo suddenly had to hustle to get into second base for a double.

The Cubs are fortunate Cleveland right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall made a poor throw back into the infield. Any kind of decent throw to second base and Rizzo would have made an embarrassing out. Rizzo later scored the go-ahead run in that inning on the Russell single, so if he's out at second base two plays earlier, that three-run inning doesn't happen, and it's anybody's guess whether the Cubs are still in the hunt today.

This isn't an isolated incident, either. Throughout these playoffs, we've seen Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and now Rizzo not hustle out of the box after making contact. That's embarrassing for your team, even if you don't get thrown out, when you're competing for a championship. It's also a poor reflection on manager Joe Maddon. If one guy pulls that crap, it's the player's fault. But when it's a team-wide thing, the manager better do something. The Cubs can't afford that sort of mistake if they hope to win two games in Cleveland. Next time, Chisenhall might make an accurate throw.

Chapman nearly cost himself the lead, too, when he failed to cover first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield by Rajai Davis. Rizzo made a terrific stop on the play, preventing the ball from getting down the right-field line for extra bases. But when he got up to make a feed to first base, Chapman was nowhere to be found and Davis was easily safe.

Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases this season, and he predictably swiped second and third base after Chapman gifted him the infield single. From Day 1 of spring training, pitchers work on getting over to first base on grounders to the right side. For Chapman to fail to get a good break off the mound in that spot is inexcusable. It's inexcusable in any situation, let alone in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with a one-run lead, in an elimination game with everything at stake. That miscue cost the Cubs three bases. It could have cost the game.

Fortunately for Chapman, he did have his best stuff on the mound, and he got Jason Kipnis to pop out weakly and struck out Francisco Lindor looking to strand Davis at third.

Again, though, that's a mistake the Cubs better not make once they get to Cleveland. I think the Cubs need to play not one but two clean games Tuesday and Wednesday in order to win this series.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cody Allen closes out dramatic ninth inning for Cleveland in Game 3

Cody Allen
Saw an interesting stat today: The Cleveland Indians are 23-0 when relief pitchers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller pitch in the same game.

I always say the longer a streak goes in baseball, the more likely it is to end. The Cubs had a chance to end that streak Friday night, but Allen slammed the door on them, striking out Javier Baez with two outs and two runners in scoring position to preserve a 1-0 Cleveland victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

With the win, the Indians hold a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

Even if you don't care about either of these two teams, the ninth inning of Game 3 was as dramatic as it gets in a non-elimination game.

Cleveland scored the lone run on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Coco Crisp. The combination of Josh Tomlin, Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen had combined to keep the Cubs off the board through eight innings.

Allen, the Cleveland closer, struck out Kris Bryant on a nasty curve to end the bottom of the eighth inning, but he found himself in immediate peril after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo in the ninth.

With Chris Coghlan running for Rizzo, Allen bounced back to get the first out on another good curve that caused Ben Zobrist to swing and miss. Coghlan advanced to second on a weak groundout by Willson Contreras, which set up the drama of having the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth.

Jason Heyward came to the plate for the Cubs with the game hanging in the balance, causing audible groans throughout the Chicago area. The $184 million man is 2 for 31 this postseason, and he's probably the last player the Cubs wanted up in that situation. Heck, they've got some pitchers who have been swinging the bat better than Heyward.

This time, the Cubs lucked out when Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli booted what should have been a routine grounder off Heyward's bat. Suddenly, the Cubs had first and third and the much more dangerous Baez at the plate.

Heyward stole second and got into scoring position representing the winning run, and Baez jumped ahead in the count, 2-1. It was set up for the Cubs to possibly steal this game, but that's when Allen got tough.

The Cleveland reliever went back to his curve on 2-1. It broke hard and down in the dirt, and Baez could not check his swing. Strike two.

Gutsy pitch, because remember the tying run is on third base. If Indians catcher Yan Gomes doesn't block the ball, the game is tied. Gomes made the block. Cleveland got the strike, and Allen had succeeded in changing Baez's eye level.

With two strikes, Baez had to be thinking about that curve ball. After all, Allen had recorded three outs to that point -- all on curve balls. So what did Allen do? He pitched Baez backward. He went away from his preferred out pitch. He probably figured Baez would be protecting against the low breaking ball, so he threw a high fastball, above the hands. And he blew it right past Baez. Swinging strike three. Game over.

Brilliant pitching and a dramatic end to a great baseball game between the two top teams in the sport this year. Who says a 1-0 game is boring? Not me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cubs' offensive woes: Is it the pressure or the Dodgers' pitching?

Anthony Rizzo -- 2 for 26 in the playoffs
Panic might be too strong a word, but there is definitely consternation and concern on the streets of Chicago after the Cubs lost, 6-0, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers have taken a 2-1 series lead, and they have limited the Cubs to zero runs on six hits over the past two games combined. Until this week, Los Angeles had never posted back-to-back shutouts in its 200-game playoff history.

The Cubs hadn't been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. But in these playoffs, they've scored just 25 runs in seven games and have posted an ugly team slash line of .185/.242/.335.

Some of the individual statistics are even worse:

Addison Russell: 1 for 24, .042 avg.
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 26, .077 avg.
Jason Heyward: 2 for 19, .105 avg.
Ben Zobrist: 4 for 26, .154 avg.
Dexter Fowler: 5 for 28, .179 avg.

So, five of the Cubs' eight everyday players are a combined 14 for 123. That pencils out to a .114 average. With production like this, the Cubs are lucky they won the NLDS. They were fortunate to play a San Francisco Giants team that had no bullpen whatsoever.

Here's the question with the Cubs (and it's a rhetorical one -- I don't have a definitive answer): Are they struggling because they are facing good pitching, or are they struggling because they are feeling the pressure of trying to end a 108-year World Series drought?

After the Cubs lost, 1-0, to the Dodgers in Game 2, I would have said the Cubs were simply beat by good pitching. They saw Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, for seven innings. Then, the next two innings they saw Kenley Jansen, who is one of the top five closers in the game today.

There is no shame in getting shut down by the combination of Kershaw and Jansen.

But then came Game 3, when the Cubs managed only two hits in six innings against Rich Hill, a journeyman who has played for eight teams and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League as recently as last year. The Dodgers also used journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and rookie left-hander Grant Dayton in relief Tuesday, before going to Jansen to close out the game.

Am I wrong for thinking the Cubs, who scored 808 runs this season, should have been able to get something done against the trio of Hill, Blanton and Dayton? I don't believe so.

The Cubs' Game 2 loss struck me as good pitching by the Dodgers. The Cubs' Game 3 loss struck me as bad offense, and a sign that the Cubs might be feeling the pressure.

I can't be sure; I certainly don't have any insight into what the Cubs hitters are thinking at the plate. But I do know this: The Dodgers are starting 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. He's a talented kid, but he's a rookie, and he hasn't thrown as many as 90 pitches in any game since August.

The Cubs should beat this guy, and they better if they want to end their World Series drought this year. If the Cubs lose this game, they are one loss away from elimination, and you already know they are going to see Kershaw one more time before this series is over.

If you're the Cubs -- and, of course, I am not -- you don't want to put yourself in a situation where the best pitcher in baseball can close you out.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MLBPA threatens litigation over Kris Bryant demotion

So, the Cubs assigned third baseman Kris Bryant to their minor league camp on Monday.

You can't say the 23-year-old prospect didn't make a strong case to be included on the Cubs' 25-man roster to start the season. He hit .425 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats this spring.

We've talked about the service time rules before on this blog, but just to review, if Bryant spends 12 or more days in the minor leagues this season, the Cubs would delay him from becoming eligible for free agency by one year, until after the 2021 season, according to baseball's collective bargaining agreement. If the team keeps him on the roster for all of this season, he would be eligible for free agency one year sooner, after the 2020 season.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, as expected, was not happy with the Cubs' decision.

'"Today is a bad day for baseball,'' the union said in a statement. ''I think we all know that even if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our game, and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.''

Whoa, timeout here. Litigation? Seriously?

This is the part where I think the union is out of line. The rules for service time were collectively bargained, and the union signed off on them. The union can sue the Cubs or MLB if it wishes, but I don't think it will take long for that lawsuit to be thrown out of court.

If the union is unhappy with the service time rules, maybe it should bring that up in the next CBA negotiations. But with the rules that are in place right now, the Cubs are clearly within their rights to send Bryant down to the minor leagues. The question here isn't whether the Cubs can do this. They can. The question is whether they should.

From a purely business perspective, it's the right move. The Cubs can bring Bryant to the majors 12 days into the season and not cost themselves that year of control in 2021. Barring weather issues, the Cubs will play just nine games in those first 12 days of the 2015 season. If you're the club, would you rather have Bryant for the first nine games of 2015? Or would you rather have him for 162 games in 2021?

That's a no-brainer. Anyone would take the 162 games in 2021. But that's just from the business perspective. I don't think you can just ignore the baseball side of things and just make a pure business decision.

On the baseball side, the Cubs are running the risk of alienating their own players by sending Bryant down. In any workplace, employees don't like it when decisions are based upon something other than merit. It's no different with a baseball team. This move by the Cubs no doubt pisses off Bryant and his agent, but it probably pisses off some other players, too.

Think about it. If you're a prospect in the Cubs organization and Bryant is one of your peers, what are you thinking today? I'd be thinking, "Damn, that dude did everything right. He earned his shot, and they still didn't give it to him. Is that going to happen to me? How is the organization going to treat me when my time comes?"

Or, what if you're a veteran player on the Cubs? Say you're Anthony Rizzo or Jon Lester or Miguel Montero, and you're listening to Joe Maddon talk about how the team has "very high expectations" and "expects to win."

OK, that's good, it's Major League Baseball, and your manager should say he expects to win. But then you look over at third base and you see Mike Olt standing there instead of Bryant. If I'm a veteran Cubs player, I'm looking at Olt and saying, "If we expect to win, then what the hell is that guy still doing here?"

The idea that the Cubs are better positioned to win with Olt at third base instead of Bryant is complete fiction. It's not even an argument. Everyone knows it. The Cubs players aren't stupid. They know it, too. I'd be frustrated if I was in their spikes. A team that has "very high expectations" doesn't put Olt in its everyday lineup to start the year when there's a better option available.

That's the risk the Cubs are running here. Is sending Bryant down a sound business decision? Yes, no question, but it sure is a maddening one when looked at from a pure baseball perspective.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anthony Rizzo's interesting rebound season (so far)

Cubs first baseman and franchise cornerstone Anthony Rizzo is enjoying a resurgent season, and it's interesting how he's doing it.

Last year, Rizzo disappointed with a .233/.323/.419 batting line. Not what you want from your first baseman, even if it does come with a good defensive reputation. The two main culprits for the diminished output seemed to be at paltry .258 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and an even more anemic .189/.282/.342 result against left-handers.

It always seemed like the BABIP would come back up a little since Rizzo has hit for good averages in the minors. While he isn't difficult to strike out, he also doesn't have severe issues making contact. And sure enough, Rizzo's BABIP is .299 to start the week, helping lift him to a .283/.399/.488 line so far this season.

The more interesting thing to me is that this year, Rizzo is batting .317/.408/.561 against left-handers, better than the .267/.394/.453 he's posting against right-handed pitchers -- basically the reverse of the results from the rest of his career. His BABIP is .357 against southpaws, while it's only .275 against righties.

Rizzo is only 153 plate appearances into the season, so instead of instructing us that he's figured out how to hit left-handers, the better assumption is that batting-average driven numbers are more likely to regress to something closer to what he's done in the past.

If Rizzo ultimately settles in with an overall BABIP around .290 this will still end up being a pretty solid comeback season for him, even if he doesn't finish it with an OPS around .900 that he's been dancing around most of the year so far.

To do that, he's going to have to keep up his power output, which faded on him when the weather got warmer last year, and show that his better contact against left-handers is for real.

Friday, May 9, 2014

It's time for the Cubs to get rid of Darwin Barney

Outside of shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have gone with a musical chairs approach to their infield. Between second and third base they've rotated Luis Valbuena (20 starts), Emilio Bonifacio (12), Mike Olt (16) and Darwin Barney (16).

Bonifacio has also gotten time in the outfield, but this is a pretty even job-sharing arrangement. That makes some sense in that the Cubs have a lot of guys they're trying to sort out, even if not for their direct benefit, then to give scouts from other teams a look-see at players so they can be peddled for something interesting in a trade.

Olt is a former top prospect not far from the form that made him one, so getting his career back on track would be huge. Valbuena and Bonifacio are playing like credible stopgaps or bench options should a better team come calling for one of them. Maybe the Cubs will like Bonifacio enough to hammer out an affordable contract extension.

Barney is hitting like one of the worst hitters in all of baseball. Which he is outside of pitchers and backup catchers. That's not just his meager 63 plate appearances this year (.127/.226/.181, so emphasis on meager). That's been his career in the majors (.242/.241/.331). That's really what his body of work in the minors would have suggested (.288/.337/.378).

There's his glove, which is excellent at second base and would probably play well at short or third. But as good as it is, it won't carry him as a starter at any position, and you'd really rather he never have to hit, making him a second-best utility infield option on a decent bench. That means he's not likely to bring the Cubs back much value in trade.

After making $2.3 million this season, I think it's also safe to say that if he's not sent to another team, the Cubs won't be tendering him a contract and taking him to arbitration for next season.

Barney simply has no value to the Cubs right now, and keeping him around is eating into something the team has right now that's very valuable, and that's playing time for those other guys who might play their way into the long-term picture, or at least boost their short-term value.

Even as a "rebuilding" team, the Cubs have other, better options. They should go with them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bunting with two strikes ... sometimes that works

I was watching a White Sox-Reds spring training game last week when I saw Sox center fielder Adam Eaton bunt for a base hit on an 0-2 pitch. The Cincinnati third baseman was so stunned that he threw the ball away on the play. Even with an accurate throw, Eaton would have been safe.  

I thought to myself, "I haven't seen a Sox player try something like that in quite a few years."  

Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon: With the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Sox infielder Leury Garcia lays down a perfect bunt on an 0-2 pitch. He beats the play out without a throw.  Later in the inning, he scores the game-winning run on a wild pitch as the Sox defeat the Minnesota Twins, 7-6.  

It would be a refreshing change if the Sox can find a way to score some runs this season without the benefit of the long ball. On Wednesday, only one of their seven tallies came on a home run -- a solo shot by Adam Dunn in the eighth inning.  

The Sox scored three runs in the second inning on three singles, a double and two sacrifice hits. They rallied to tie the game with two runs in the ninth on three singles and a fielder's choice. It was encouraging to see some manufactured runs with the game on the line.

Speaking of that ninth-inning rally, Paul Konerko got off to a good start in his new bench role. He led off the inning with a pinch-hit single off Minnesota closer Glen Perkins, who is left-handed. Konerko, for all his struggles in 2013, hit .313 against left-handed pitchers a year ago. He can still be effective for the Sox if he is spotted in matchups that are favorable for him.

'Don't want to get picked off here in this situation'

Good news for the Cubs: Their new leadoff man, Emilio Bonifacio, is swinging the bat exceptionally well out of the gate. He's 9 for 12 through the first two games of the season.  

Bad news for the Cubs: Bonifacio has been picked off base two of the nine times he's reached, and he would have been picked off a third time if the Pittsburgh first baseman had not dropped the ball.

I don't know if I've ever seen a guy get picked off three times the first two days of the season. Would that be some kind of record? It's hard to come down too hard on Bonifacio, though, because he's one of the few Cub hitters off to a good start. The North Siders are 0-2, having lost a pair of extra-inning contests in Pittsburgh. They've scored only three runs in 26 innings against the Pirates pitching staff.

On Wednesday, the Cubs rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a run in the eighth and another run in the ninth. They even took a short-lived 3-2 lead on Anthony Rizzo's solo home run in the top of the 12th. But new closer Jose Veras failed in his first save situation. He gave up the lead and was fortunate to escape a bases-loaded jam and with only one run allowed in the bottom of the 12th. Veras was taking forever in between pitches and seemed to have no confidence in his stuff. It's only one outing, but that performance cannot be encouraging for the Cubs, who went on to lose 4-3 in 16 innings.  

Buerhle turns back clock in first start of season  

Former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle had an up-and down year in his first season in Toronto in 2013, but on Wednesday, he looked like the pitcher he was five or six years ago.

Buehrle allowed only four hits over 8.2 innings and picked up the win as the Blue Jays defeated Tampa Bay, 3-0. The southpaw struck out 11 and walked just one.

It was just the second double-digit strikeout game of Buehrle's career. The other came during the Sox' World Series year. He fanned a career-high 12 in a 2-1 win over Seattle on April 16, 2005.

I still root for Buehrle, as long as he isn't pitching against the Sox.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Should the Cubs part with Samardzija?

Maybe the most interesting choice the Cubs face this offseason is what to do with right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

It will be interesting not just because of what Samardzija is -- not really a No. 1 starter, though maybe the best pitcher the Cubs have -- but the choice will signify the team's intent over the course of the next couple years.

Last year the Cubs reached for Edwin Jackson to plug a hole in the rotation, figuring someone had to pitch, so why not Jackson? The free agent had some upside, and teamed with Matt Garza, Samardzija, Travis Wood and a hopefully healthy Scott Feldman, if enough things broke right among the position players on the roster, you could squint at this team and see a contender. Or at least a team that could look competitive in a possibly weak NL Central.

Obviously, not much of that happened as the division was strong, high hopes for guys like shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo sank, and Jackson revealed himself to be the innings eater he is. Nothing more and nothing less.

Samardzija himself took a step back, at least as far as results go with his ERA climbing from 3.81 to 4.34, though advanced stats like fielding-independent pitching indicate his results weren't that much of a drop-off from 2012.

The Cubs should probably expect Samardzija to be what he's been over the last two seasons, which is a right-hander with a big fastball and a lot of strikeouts who is still pretty hittable, maybe walks a few too many guys, but isn't exceptionally homer-happy.

Maybe most people look at that and think Samardzija is a decent No. 3 starter, a pretty good No. 4 or a great No. 5. Maybe some teams look at the increasing ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (0.71 in 2011, 0.81 in 2012 and 0.97 last year) and think he just needs a better defense behind him to close the gap between his actually ERA and his FIP (3.45 last year). Some of those teams probably also look at the big strikeout rate (9.0 per 9 IP), consider the slow start to his baseball career while he played football at Notre Dame, and think he's still got the tools to blossom into a real No. 1 starter as he approaches his 30th birthday.

I don't buy that most optimistic version of Samardzija's future, because you really have to be sold on arguments that can't be made with numbers alone. However, I can see how those arguments might become more convincing to a team that finds itself unable to trade for David Price this winter.

Obviously, the offers the Cubs gets should determine their willingness to pull the trigger on any Samardzija trade. Though the haul for Garza and Feldman was underwhelming when those pitchers were dealt last summer, Samardzija is still under team control for two more years.

If I were the Cubs GM, though, it would have to be a pretty nice package, because just like a piece of the rationale for the Jackson signing, somebody's got to pitch.

The Cubs are not so deep in pitching that they can easily fill Samardzija's spot. They can't count on mining free agent gold like Feldman again. Jackson will be another year older, and any diminishing results from him might lead frustration from those expecting more to boil over into his ouster from the team. For as tough a time as Samardzija has had with his ERA not matching his FIP, Wood has exceeded expectations there by more than half a run each of the last two seasons, and that might not happen again. Other options like Chris Rusin and Jake Arrieta look underwhellming.

In other words, trading Samardzija would mean the Cubs aren't pretending they might start getting things together next year. Not without risking big bucks on a replacement pitcher, or getting an MLB-ready pitching prospect back.

Current Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have been pretty candid from the beginning that this was going to be a long rebuilding process. While a lot of Cubs fans have accepted that, it's a different matter being asked to suffer though a third straight season of embarrassing baseball. Not when the second straight year led to the manager being fired

So unless the Cubs are offered a package that looks to surely exceed the value of two more seasons from Samardzija, plus a draft pick when he's offered a qualifying offer before free agency, Hoyer and Epstein should elect to keep their hurler for at least one more season.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Joe Girardi to the Cubs? Idiotic speculation or a real possibility?

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi's contract is up at the end of the season. You know what that means. It is time for renewed speculation that Girardi will "come home" to manage the Cubs.

Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers is leading the media charge with his piece in today's paper.

Rogers and others have reported the Cubs are open to the possibility of replacing manager Dale Sveum, who frankly has had no chance to win the last two years with the crappy rosters he has been handed. But, perhaps Cubs brass is unhappy with Sveum because supposed core players Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija have all taken a step backward this season.

My opinion on Sveum? Take him or leave him. I don't think he's anything special as a field boss, but the truth is no manager ever born could have coaxed the Cubs teams of the last two years to anything close to a .500 record, let along playoff contention.

As for Girardi, I'd be stunned if the Yankees don't offer him another contract. Even though New York will likely not make the playoffs, Girardi has done an unbelievable job of keeping a mediocre roster in contention deep into September.

Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have barely played this season. Alex Rodriguez, as usual, has created a circus around that team. C.C. Sabathia has had the worst season of his career. New York's pitching, statistically, is worse than both of the woeful Chicago baseball teams this year. Despite all that, Girardi is going to squeeze 85 to 87 wins out of a team that had to give way too many at-bats to guys like Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Eduardo Nunez. Girardi's a good manager. He's better than Sveum. There's no denying that.

But would he leave New York for Chicago? What would be his motivation to do that? His local roots, I suppose. He's from Peoria. He attended Northwestern, and he played seven of his 15 MLB seasons on the North Side. I can't imagine money would be a motivation. Whatever the Cubs can offer, the Yankees could surely match. I don't think the Cubs can offer Girardi a better on-field situation than what the Yankees have. New York contends every year. The Yankees will find a way next year, too, regardless of who the manager is. They'll open up their pocketbook this offseason and address their holes. They always do. The Cubs, in contrast, are at least another two years away.

Are the local ties enough to pry Girardi out of New York? I don't know, but that's really all the Cubs have to offer. And, if Girardi is sick of New York and ready for a change, he would have other options than Chicago. I hear Washington is looking for a manager, and the Nationals have a team that should be ready to win. Attractive jobs could come open in Texas and Anaheim, as well.

When it comes to the Cubs, it's always hard for me to tell whether some of the local reporting is legitimate news, or just cheerleading from the press box. When I read some of these articles, it almost strikes me as if the Cubs reporters are trying to woo Girardi to Chicago themselves. In the coming months, it will be interesting to see whether that story has legs, or if it's just another round of idiotic speculation at the end of another lost season on the North Side.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Miguel Cabrera has 40 and 120 -- with a quarter of a season left

If Miguel Cabrera played for a team that wasn't in the American League Central, I would really like him. Come to think of it, the only reason I dislike him is because he plays for the Detroit Tigers -- a hated rival of the White Sox.

The guy is just an awesome hitter, and as a fan of baseball, I respect just how good Cabrera is at his craft. The reigning Triple Crown winner slugged his 40th home run of the season Sunday in the Tigers' 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. Cabrera also had an RBI single in the game, lifting his season RBI total to 120.

Cabrera, who leads the American League with a .360 batting average, became just the third player since 1921 to have at least 40 homers and 120 RBIs while batting .350 or better through 116 games. The other two names on that list are Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.

As baseball fans, I think the Steroid Era made us all feel like 40 home runs and 120 RBIs in one season isn't much of an accomplishment anymore. In recent weeks, I've heard two different radio commentators in Chicago opine about how one day Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is going to "hit 40 home runs and drive in 120 runs every year."

Really? Even if Rizzo develops into an All-Star hitter, he isn't going to do that. I don't think people respect just how hard it is to put up 40 and 120 in a single year.

For Cabrera, as great as he is, this is only the second time he's had 40 and 120 in the same season. Frank Thomas accomplished the feat just three times in his brilliant 19-year career. Albert Pujols, who preceded Cabrera as the best hitter in the game, has done it four times. Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, who is beloved by statheads as an OPS machine, has never totaled 40 and 120 in the same season.

Even noted steroid cheats Alex Rodriguez (six times), Sammy Sosa (four times) and Barry Bonds (three times) didn't hit 40 homers and drive in 120 every year.

Those are difficult plateaus to reach, and that makes what Cabrera is doing this year all the more impressive. At the rate he's going, 50 home runs and 150 RBIs are well within his reach.