Showing posts with label Kris Bryant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kris Bryant. 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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Anthony Ranaudo's White Sox debut memorable, but unfortunate

Anthony Ranaudo
With Carlos Rodon still stuck on the disabled list, the White Sox turned to Anthony Ranaudo to make a spot start Wednesday against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Ranaudo held up his end of the bargain. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and even became the first Sox pitcher to hit a home run since Mark Buehrle in 2009.

But from the sixth inning on, it all unraveled, and the Sox lost 8-1 -- although very little of that damage was Ranaudo's fault.

The Sox led 1-0 into the sixth inning before Kris Bryant ended Ranaudo's no-hit bid and shutout with a solo home run on a 3-1 hanging curve ball. To Ranaudo's credit, he did not get rattled. He retired the next two hitters and got the game into the seventh inning with score tied at 1.

After the first two Sox hitters made outs in the seventh, manager Robin Ventura allowed Ranaudo to hit for himself. I thought that might have been a spot to give Justin Morneau an opportunity to pinch hit against Cubs starter Jason Hammel, but given the Sox's thin bullpen, Ventura decided to try to get another inning out of Ranaudo. A questionable decision, but not indefensible by any means.

It looked like it would work out, initially, as Ranaudo retired Miguel Montero and Addison Russell on groundouts to start the bottom of the inning. That's where things got dicey, and frankly, what occurred the rest of the seventh was not Ranaudo's fault.

The Sox right-hander snapped off beautiful curve ball to Jason Heyward on a 2-2 pitch. It was right at the bottom of the zone and over the plate. It fooled Heyward, and he took it for what should have been strike three, inning over. But catcher Dioner Navarro's lousy framing skills once against cost the Sox. As Navarro caught the pitch, he snapped his glove downward, making it seem like the ball was in the dirt. The Sox didn't get the call, the inning continued, and Heyward walked on the next pitch.

Ranaudo was at 101 pitches at that point, and that should have been the end of his night. Javier Baez was the next Cubs hitter, and Ventura should have gone with one of the power right-handed arms in his bullpen. It would have been nice to see Carson Fulmer, or even Tommy Kahnle, in that spot to give Baez a different look.

Instead, Ranaudo remained, and he hung a 3-2 curve to Baez, who hit one out to give the Cubs the lead for good at 3-1. Then, Ventura emerges from the dugout to make a pitching change.

A day later and a dollar short there, Robin.

Fulmer and Jacob Turner struggled in the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing the Cubs to blow it open with five more runs, but the game was lost with the lousy receiving of Navarro and the questionable decision-making of Ventura in the seventh inning.

Ranaudo deserved a better fate, and to add insult to injury, he was the one who was sent to the minors after the game to make room on the roster for Chris Sale, who is returning from his five-game suspension.

Between the home run and limiting the Cubs to two hits over 6.2 innings, I'd say Ranaudo's debut was a memorable one, but he unfortunately became a victim of the usual White Sox nonsense.

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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

White Sox should send Carlos Rodon to Triple-A to start the season

The White Sox announced on Wednesday that ace left-hander Chris Sale (broken foot) will not be ready to pitch on Opening Day. This will only fuel speculation that top prospect Carlos Rodon has a chance to make the team's 25-man roster coming out of spring training.

The Sox should resist that urge. They should instead send Rodon to Triple-A Charlotte to begin the season.

And I'm not just saying that because Rodon allowed three runs on five hits in 2.1 innings in Wednesday's 4-4 tie with the Texas Rangers. Even if the left-hander had struck out all 12 batters he faced Wednesday, it wouldn't change my opinion.

There are a couple good reasons not to rush Rodon. First and foremost, there's the business side of the game. Michael Bauman at Grantland (no relation) did a great job of explaining the service time factor in this article about Cubs prospect Kris Bryant. The same principle with Bryant applies to the situation with the White Sox and Rodon:

"There are about 183 calendar days in a major league season; anyone who spends 172 or more of those days on the active roster or major league disabled list is credited with a full year of service time, while players who spend less than that are credited with the fraction of the season they spent in the big leagues," Bauman wrote. "Service time progresses players toward three primary milestones: arbitration eligibility (which takes a little less than three years, depending on moving goalposts that aren’t worth explaining here), free agency (six years), and a pension (10 years)."

In simplest terms, this means Rodon needs to spend a few weeks in Charlotte this year. If he starts the season with the Sox and stays in the majors the whole year, he'll hit free agency after the 2020 season. But if the Sox keep him in Charlotte for just a little while longer, they'll have him under team control for one extra year -- the 2021 season.

A no-brainer, right? Seems like it to me.

Then, there's the baseball side of things. Rodon has great promise, but he is not a finished product. Most guys need three major league quality pitches to be in a team's starting rotation. Rodon slider is great; there's no doubting that. He's got a good fastball, although his command could use a little polish. The changeup, while improving, is not there yet. Why not let him continue to work on that third pitch in the minors? It's the right thing to do, regardless of Sale's status.

Senior Vice President Ken Williams made it sound like Sale is on track to make his season debut April 12 -- the fifth game of the season. If Sale stays on that timetable, the Sox won't need to take an extra starter with them when they break camp. Sale would simply pitch fifth in the rotation instead of first.

And even if Sale falls a little behind that schedule, and the Sox need to reach into their depth for a starting pitcher, I don't see the harm in giving a veteran like Scott Carroll or Brad Penny one or two starts in April.

I know watching Carroll or Penny pitch doesn't excite anyone, but if it's the right thing for Rodon's development and his future with the organization -- and it is -- then that's what you do.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Report: Cubs renew contract talks with Jeff Samardzija

Turn on the baseball talk shows in Chicago, and you still hear nothing but poetry and praise for the Cubs' front office and its rebuilding plan. Many members of the media gush about the prospects the Cubs have in their system, especially third baseman Kris Bryant, who has been tearing up Double-A.

But here's the thing: Prospects are all fine and dandy, but don't you have to make progress at the major league level eventually? The Cubs have lost 90 or more games for three consecutive years, and they are on pace for another 93 losses this season. That's unacceptable for a big-market team -- at least it should be.

It's past time for the Cubs to open up the wallet and start spending to improve the major league team. The North Siders have only $31 million committed to their roster for the 2015 season (excluding arbitration raises). Given the ticket prices they charge, the Cubs should have plenty of cash on hand. And, there's not much question that money should be spent on pitching.

All these prospects we keep hearing about are position players: Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Arismendy Alcantara, etc. Where are the pitching prospects? There aren't many worth talking about, and that's why I think the Cubs should sign their best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, to an extension. Reports on Monday indicated the team is trying to do just that.

To this point in the season, it's been assumed Samardzija would be traded to an AL East contender midseason. Previous contract talks have gone nowhere with the right-hander, whose 2.77 ERA ranks ninth in the National League. Despite a 2-6 record, Samardzjia's other numbers are good: 82 strikeouts in 91 innings and a 1.18 WHIP. I don't know that he's an ace on a contending team, but he's probably a No. 2 starter. He's a solid, reliable pitcher who would be an asset to any organization.

Knowing that, why don't the Cubs just keep him? Sure, he's going to command six years at over $100 million. That's a lot of dough, but it's the going rate. If Homer Bailey can get six years and $105 million, then so can Samardzija. And it isn't like any of the other free agent pitching options next offseason (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields, Justin Masterson) are going to come any cheaper.

If you're gonna pay for pitching, why not pay the guy who has been with the organization all along? Samardzija will be 30 heading into next season, but his arm doesn't have the wear and tear of many pitchers his age. He was late to the party in terms of becoming a starting pitcher. He's thrown 649 innings in the majors during his career. By way of comparison, San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain (who is three and a half months older than Samardzija) has thrown 1,779.2 innings in the majors. Projecting a pitcher's future is always guesswork, but if I had to take a guess, I'd say Samardzija's got plenty of bullets left.

Let's say the Cubs do ante up and make Samardzija a lucrative offer in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see if he accepts. I have the sneaking suspicion that Samardzija is tired of this rebuilding plan. By the Cubs' own admission, they are at least two years and maybe three years away from fielding a team that can compete. Samardzija is in the prime of his career right now. Does he want two or three more of his best years to go to waste languishing on a rebuilding club? The way he's pitched, it's absurd he has only two wins this season.

That leads me to my next point: If the Cubs want to attract big-name free agents, they need to start winning more games. Why did Masahiro Tanaka choose the Yankees over the Cubs? It wasn't because the Cubs didn't make a representative offer. It was because Tanaka wants to win, and the Yankees field a competitive team every season.

Sure, the Cubs could flip Samardzija to the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles or Yankees and get three or four prospects, but then their team would become even worse than it already is. If the Cubs trade both Samardzija and pitcher Jason Hammel, they don't have many good options to plug into those two rotation spots. They might be charting a course toward 95 or 100 losses.

Would Max Scherzer or Jon Lester want to come be a part of that? I don't think so. Who is going to take the Cubs' money, if not Samardzija? Members of the media might be swooning about Cubs prospects, but veteran players don't give a damn about Javier Baez's batting average in Triple-A. They want a chance to win, and they want it sooner rather than later.

I believe signing Samardzija for the long haul would bring the Cubs closer to a chance to win than flipping him for a package of ifs and maybes at the trade deadline.