Showing posts with label Starlin Castro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Starlin Castro. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Yoenis Cespedes' steal of third base: Most overlooked important play in NLCS Game 3

The Cubs played a lousy defensive game Tuesday night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The New York Mets took advantage of most of their opportunities and got strong pitching from Jacob deGrom to earn a 5-2 victory at Wrigley Field. The Mets now have a 3-0 stranglehold on the best-of-seven series.

Here in Chicago, some of the postgame laments are focusing on a couple misplays in left field by Kyle Schwarber, and a wild pitch by Trevor Cahill in the top of the sixth inning that allowed New York's Yoenis Cespedes to score the go-ahead and eventual winning run. Cubs shortstop Javier Baez made an error on the first play of the game, and right fielder Jorge Soler also had a horrible misplay in the sixth inning, so there were no shortage of defensive gaffes by the Cubs.

But the most overlooked important play in the game proceeded Cahill's wild pitch. With Cespedes on second base and one out in a 2-2 game, the Cubs' middle infielders, Baez and Starlin Castro, fell asleep. They were not holding Cespedes close, and he got a huge jump on Cahill and stole third base with ease.

The Mets successfully stole third base just five times during the regular season, but this is the fourth time one of their baserunners has swiped third in the postseason. New York is being more aggressive in the playoffs. The Cubs should have caught on to that by now, but apparently not.

That stolen base put Cespedes at third with just one out, which is always crucial. As it turns out, Cahill made the big pitch he needed to get the second out. Travis d'Arnaud grounded out to third base, and Cespedes could not advance. Michael Conforto then struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt, but the ball skipped past Cubs catcher Miguel Montero all the way to the screen. Conforto reached first safely on the dropped third strike, while Cespedes raced down the line to put the Mets up 3-2.

They tacked on two more in the seventh, with help from a Schwarber misplay, but do you think that steal of third base was crucial? You bet it was. That wild pitch means nothing if Cespedes is still standing on second base.

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.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wins coming easy for Daniel Webb, not so much for Jeff Samardzija

Quick, name the pitcher who leads the White Sox staff in wins ...

It's a tie between relief pitcher Daniel Webb and disabled ace Chris Sale, who hasn't pitched since April 17. Both pitchers are 3-0.

Webb picked up his third win of the season Monday in the Sox's 3-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. I make note of this only because I've rarely seen a pitcher do so little work in earning three wins. Webb has recorded a combined total of five outs in those three games. On two occasions, he's picked up a victory after pitching to and retiring just one hitter.

A summary of Webb's three wins:

April 15 vs. Boston -- Webb enters in the top of the ninth inning with the score tied, 1-1, runners on first and second and two outs. He throws one pitch and retires Boston's Mike Carp on a tapper back to the mound. The Sox score an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth and prevail, 2-1. For Webb, one pitch, one win.

May 4 at Cleveland -- Webb comes on with the Sox trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth. He gets two outs quickly, then walks a guy and gives up a single before getting out of the inning with no runs allowed. The Sox score three in the ninth on a home run by Dayan Viciedo. The Sox win, 4-3, and Webb is 2-0.

May 5 at Cubs -- Webb enters in the bottom of the 11th inning with the score tied, 1-1. There are runners on first and second with two outs. He falls behind in the count, 3-0, to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro before rallying to strike out the free swinging Castro on a high-and-tight fastball. The Sox score two in the 12th, and Webb is rewarded with yet another win for recording a grand total of one out.

Contrast this with Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who started Monday's game and went nine innings while allowing just an unearned run in the first inning. Samardzija has been one of the best pitchers in the National League through the first month of the season, and he was masterful against the Sox.

What does he have to show for it? An 0-3 record, despite a 1.62 ERA and despite giving up three runs or less in each of his first seven starts.

Quite a few members of the Chicago media are wondering when poor Samardzija is finally going to be rewarded with a few wins for his fine pitching. My guess is Samardzija will start winning once the Cubs trade him to a contender this July.

If you're Samardzija, there isn't much you can do when you've got a struggling team behind you, other than just keep pitching and hope for a change in luck. It's just humorous that a guy like Webb can have three wins for doing so little, while Samardzija can't catch a break despite being far and away the Cubs' best player to this point in the season.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If any pitcher deserves some run support, it's Jose Quintana

White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana leads the league in only one category: no-decisions. He had a league-high 17 of them in 2013. He's had 28 of them since the start of the 2012 season, more than any other pitcher in baseball. Heck, his first start of 2014 ended in a no-decision after the Sox bullpen spit out a three-run lead.

I've lost track of how many times Quintana has pitched well enough to win, only to walk away with nothing. Lack of run support? That would be an understatement. The Sox scored three runs or less in 16 of Quintana's 33 starts last year. Seven times, they were limited to one run or less. They were shutout on three occasions.

So if there's any pitcher who deserved to be the beneficiary of a 15-run outburst, it's Quintana. The left-hander turned in another solid, consistent outing on Tuesday night, firing seven innings of two-run ball in the Sox' 15-3 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

The environment is hitter-friendly in Denver, and this game saw the Sox pound out six home runs and 19 hits. First baseman Jose Abreu hit the first two home runs of his major league career. Avisail Garcia also went deep twice, and Alexei Ramirez and Tyler Flowers hit home runs as well.

Abreu's first home run was perhaps the big blow of the game. On the 12th pitch of his at-bat in the seventh inning against Colorado reliever Chad Bettis, the Cuban slugger hit a three-run homer to extend a tenuous 4-2 Sox lead to 7-2. From there, the rout was on. Abreu homered in the eighth inning, as well, and is now tied with Minnesota's Chris Colabello for the American League lead in RBIs with 11.

Speaking of leading the league, Flowers leads all American League hitters with a .478 batting average entering Wednesday's action. That's funny to me. Should I pick him up in my fantasy league?

Cubs waste big night for Castro

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro missed a good chunk of spring training due to injury, and not surprisingly, he got off to a slow start the first few games of the season. It looks like he's back on track, though, after going 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs on Tuesday night.

But Castro's effort went for naught, as the Cubs lost 7-6 to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. I bring up his performance, though, to note he is still clearly the best shortstop in the Cubs' organization.

While I agree with Cubs fans that Castro is a frustrating player to watch at times, I disagree with those who want him traded immediately to make room for uber-prospect Javier Baez.

In case you were wondering, Baez is 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts and three errors at shortstop in six games at Triple-A Iowa so far this year. The 21-year-old also was ejected from a game for an angry outburst over the weekend. There's a good probability we'll see Baez in Chicago before the year is over, but his slow start is a reminder that he is still very much a work in progress. He needs to refine his game, especially defensively, before he's worthy of being a big-league shortstop.

The Cubs need not be in any hurry to trade Castro, who for all his faults remains the most accomplished hitter in the North Siders' lineup. The Cubs need to be adding good hitters to their roster, not subtracting the scant few they have.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Be a smart fan: Don't draw grand conclusions from spring results

I was looking at some of the baseball stories on the Chicago Tribune website this morning when I took note of a Cubs-related web poll. It read: Barney at SS over Baez, right move?
Starlin Castro



I clicked on the poll and voted "yes," because that is the right answer. Not surprisingly, only 24 percent of the poll's 607 respondents agreed with me. That means 76 percent of the people who answered this poll are full of beans, and here's why:

OK, the Cubs' regular shortstop, Starlin Castro, is out 7-10 days right now with a hamstring injury. It's not believed to be serious, and there's every reason to believe Castro will be at shortstop when the North Siders open the season March 31 in Pittsburgh. But, hypothetically, let's say Castro isn't ready. You know who the likely Cubs starter at shortstop would be under than scenario? Darwin Barney. And that's why manager Rick Renteria is going to give him some playing time at that spot while Castro is out.

I'm sorry, but this is an obvious move. It's not even a matter of debate.

However, it's being debated because the moron contingent in Chicago mistakenly believes highly regarded prospect Javier Baez is ready for the major leagues. Baez is 4 for 9 with a home run so far this spring. Those nine ABs are enough for the meathead division of the Cubs fan base to be sold on the idea that Baez should be the team's starting shortstop -- even over Castro, according to some.

Not to be a wet blanket, but that ain't happening. Baez has only played 54 games in his life above the Class-A level. He isn't ready for the bigs. And, yes, I know he hit a combined 37 home runs between High-A and Double-A ball last season.

But you know what else is true? Baez also made 44 errors in 123 games at shortstop last year. 44 errors! I'm going to go out on a limb here and say his defensive game could use a little more refinement before he's ready to play a middle infield spot in the major leagues every day.

Baez also struck out 147 times last year against that lower-level pitching. I haven't seen enough of the kid yet to comment on his swing, but that strikeout total suggests there is still some refinement needed in his offensive game, too.

Cubs brass no doubt knows this, and I believe they will wisely ignore the din and send Baez down to the minors for the start of the regular season.

All the talk in Cubs camp is about prospects right now, but Renteria has 162 major league games to manage this year. He has to have his players prepared for all possible scenarios. Unlike Baez, Barney is going to be on the 25-man roster when camp breaks, and Renteria knows he needs Barney to be ready to play shortstop in a pinch. It's a point that should be painfully obvious to anyone with a brain.

Nine good at-bats from Baez isn't going to change the Cubs' plan for this prized 21-year-old prospect, nor should it.

South Side fans not immune from stupidity, either.

A co-worker of mine suggested yesterday the White Sox sign free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana because "Felipe Paulino is struggling right now."

No lie. And I think he might have been serious.

First off, Santana is a bad fit for the Sox, but that's another argument and beside the point for this discussion.

Everyone needs to remember Paulino missed almost the entire 2013 season after arm surgery. The sum total of his year was 27.2 rehab innings in the minor leagues. He's barely pitched over the last 18 months, so nobody should be surprised he gave up four runs and eight hits over 1.2 innings in his first spring training start.

My reaction to those results: So what?

Here's what I care about: Paulino's fastball was sitting between 92 and 94 mph, right where it should be. He threw 31 of 47 pitches for strikes, a good ball-to-strike ratio, and he felt good physically after the outing.

That's all that counts right now. We'll worry about results later.

Some other instructive reading

Any fan worried about spring training numbers should read this piece from Jim Margalus over at South Side Sox.

Jim notes the 2013 Sox put up a robust .299/.358/.494 slash line during spring training. It was hardly a foreshadowing of the regular season, when the Sox posted a .249/.302/.378 line on their way to scoring the fewest runs in the American League.

The article shows several examples of individual players whose spring training numbers lied, but perhaps the most telling was infielder Jeff Keppinger's line.

In spring ball last year, Keppinger looked like the answer to the Sox' third base woes when he put up a solid .412/.483/.510 line in 58 plate appearances. Too bad his regular season totals were .253/.283/.317 in 451 plate appearances.

The moral of the story is this: Nothing that's happening now means much in the grand scheme of things. Don't fall in the trap of drawing grand conclusions from spring results.

Smart fans are the ones who stay away from this kind of nonsense.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dale Sveum fired as Cubs manager

In two seasons as manager of the Cubs, Dale Sveum was handed a Triple-A roster. To the surprise of no one -- not even his own bosses -- he produced Triple-A results.

Sveum was fired Monday after posting a miserable 127-197 record. But to hear Cubs' brass tell it, that lousy .392 winning percentage had nothing to do with Sveum's dismissal, nor did the fact that the Cubs (66-96) finished the 2013 campaign by losing 41 of their final 59 games.

Rather, Sveum was canned for not creating a friendly enough environment for the young players on his roster.

''It's absolutely imperative that we create the best environment possible for young players to come up here, continue to learn, continue to develop and thrive at the big league level and win, ultimately,'' Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said during a Monday afternoon news conference. ''And that's not an easy thing to do. A big part of the reason why we're here today is because we took a good hard look at that and we decided that we needed to try to get it right before they come up.''

The "core pieces" of the Cubs -- Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and, to a lesser extent, Darwin Barney -- all took steps backward in 2012. Sveum is taking the fall for them.

With this decision, Epstein is making it clear he doesn't want Sveum to manage the "crown jewels" of the Cubs' farm system  -- Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant -- if they make it to the big leagues in the near future.

''There were some good results this year, some young players emerged, but there were other young players who didn't continue to develop this year,'' Epstein said. ''That's a collective issue, but it's my responsibility to get it right.''

What goes unsaid there is Epstein is admitting he made a mistake in hiring Sveum. This was his guy, and now he's shoving him out the door a mere two years into the rebuilding process. If indeed Sveum is to blame for the regression of guys like Castro and Rizzo, then the Cubs are better off cutting ties and putting a fresh face in charge of the team. Better to admit a mistake than to compound it.

But what if Sveum isn't to blame? What if the Epstein and the other members of the Cubs' front office blew it with their player evaluations and the aforementioned group of young guys simply isn't as good as they were made out to be? That's one possible scenario here.

No one can say definitively at this point, and we won't have an answer for that until the next manager comes to the North Side and tries to solve the enigma that is Starlin Castro. If the next guy fails as well, then Epstein's seat will be the one getting hot.

Tampa Bay advances to AL Wild Card game

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price hadn't had much luck against the Texas Rangers coming into Monday night's Game 163. He had a 6.62 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rangers, and his numbers at Rangers Ballpark were even worse: a 10.26 ERA in four starts.

Some people might have wondered if Tampa Bay should start someone other than its ace it this winner-take-all contest to decide which club would make the AL Wild Card game. Rays manager Joe Maddon stuck with Price and was rewarded, as the left-hander fired a complete game in Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory.  Price struck out four, walked just one and threw 81 strikes out of his 118 pitches. He looked like he did last year when he went 20-5 and won the AL Cy Young.

The Rays next travel to Cleveland for a winner-take-all wild card game against the Indians on Wednesday.

The Rangers, meanwhile, will be left to wonder what could have been. Texas finishes 12-16 in September, and that's with a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season. No doubt the Rangers will lament the stretch from Sept. 1 to Sept 18 where they lost 14 out of 18 games. That, more than a single loss to Price on Monday night, is what cost Texas its season.

Given the high expectations in Arlington, you can't help but wonder if Rangers manager Ron Washington will soon join Sveum on the unemployment line.
 

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.