Category: NL Central

Mets Dream Of Undefeated Season Dashed Again, Suffer First Loss, 5-1

By Paul DiSclafani

And just like that, the dream of going 162-0 is dead.

The Mets (2-1) will not complete the first undefeated season in baseball history as they fall to the Cardinals, 5-1.  However, they did win the series against a good St. Louis team (1-2).  Even with the loss on Sunday, the Mets hit the ball well, only to find a lot of leather for outs.

Steven Matz (L, 0-1) took the loss as the Cardinals avoided the opening weekend sweep thanks to Paul DeJong’s first multi-home run game of his career.  Luke Weaver (W, 1-0) held the Mets to one run over his five innings and the bullpen did the rest.  DeJong, who’s a life-time 1.000 hitter against Matz (3-3), took him deep in the second inning to give the Cardinals their first lead of the weekend, 1-0.  It was the second home run that DeJong has hit against Matz in three AB’s.  DeJong went deep against Jacob Rhame (making his Mets debut) again in the 8th.

Matz struggled in the first two innings, throwing 51 pitches, walking two and striking out three.  But after Ahmed Rosario tied the game for the Mets with another 2-out RBI in the second, Matz surrendered a run scoring, 2-out double to Marcel Ozuna after getting ahead in the count 0-2.  Ozuna started the season 0-9 before delivering that RBI double.  He followed it up with a run scoring single in the 5th and finished the day with three hits.

Weaver, who won seven straight starts for the Cardinals as a rookie last year, worked in and out of trouble in his five innings, including a 27-pitch first inning that the Mets failed to capitalize on.  The Mets managed five hits against Weaver in his five innings and just two more the rest of the way.

Matt Harvey takes the hill to start a three-game series against the Phillies (1-2) tomorrow, who a rare Sunday off after being hammered by the Braves n Saturday, 15-2.  New manager Gabe Kapler made a huge boner when he removed starter Vince Velasquez without any pitcher warming up in the bullpen.  Hoby Milner jumped up and threw a handful of pitches in the pen before jogging to the mound.  When umpire Jerry Lane (the crew chief) allowed Milner a few extra throws on the mound, Braves manager Brian Skitner came out to argue about the delay and was then tossed from the game.  Lane would later file a report with Major League Baseball, explaining his decision.

“For whatever reason the pitcher wasn’t even getting ready,” Layne told a pool reporter. “Who got crossed up, I’m not placing blame on anybody because I don’t know. He just wasn’t ready. Hadn’t thrown a pitch. … The last thing I want to do is get somebody hurt. It’s already a messed-up situation.”

Lane did the right thing for the player, but there should be some sort of punishment for Kapler.

POSITIVES:  Juan Lagares, playing for a second straight game because Brandon Nimmo had flu-like symptoms, had three hits … Jay Bruce had his first XBH of the year, a double … Jacob Rhame, whom the Mets got in the Curtis Granderson deal from the Dodgers last year, made his Mets debut … Third straight game without an error and the defense turned two double plays … AJ Ramos pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with a strikeout … Jason Vargas threw a bullpen session on Saturday and is scheduled to throw a simulated game on Monday … Michael Conforto is scheduled to rejoin the Mets on Monday and could be in the lineup as early as Thursday … Mets pitchers have recorded 35 strikeouts in the first three games, breaking the franchise record of 32 that was set in 2005.

NEGATIVES:  Todd Frazier was 0-3 with 2K and is hitting just .200 … Roasrio got picked off first after driving home the Mets only run … Jerry Blevins made his first appearance of the season, but walked two before getting the final out of the 8th inning, facing only 3 batters … Anthony Swarzak will be evaluated after leaving the game on Saturday with a strained oblique muscle.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

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Chicago Cubs Make Their Pitch for Greatness…

During this 2017-2018 MLB offseason wherein “nobody did anything”, the Chicago Cubs only did the following:

Inconsistency in the starting rotation was a problem for the 2017 Chicago Cubs.  They did what they could in season when they dealt their star prospect to the South Side of Chicago in return for hard-luck LHP Jose Quintana.  Once joining the North Siders, Quintana saw all his numbers improve.  By now acquiring Chatwood and Darvish to replace Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and the parade of guys who filled the 5th slot, the Cubs rotation (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood, Darvish) went from decent to one of the best in all MLB.  I would assume Lester, Quintana, and Darvish will slot in some order 1,2,3.  Maddon most likely will go with the matchups to make this decision.  That will leave Hendricks at 4 and Chatwood at 5.  Ponder that for a moment.  The guy with a career postseason 1.160 WHIP. The guy who has already compiled an 11.8 WAR in only 3 1/2 MLB seasons.  The guy with ice in his veins…will be taking the mound against other teams’ fourth best guy.  This rotation simply will NOT allow losing streaks to happen in 2018.  Not to mention a guy (Chatwood) who has career numbers tainted by Coors Field. Scouts rave about his spin rate, as he has one of the nastiest curveballs out there.  Breaking balls just never did well for Rockies pitchers.  Released from the high altitude, look for Chatwood  to be a plus (WAR 1.5+) pitcher for the 2018 Cubs.  All this adds up to a high energy starting rotation.

And what of the bullpen?

In 2017, the bullpen suffered from a lot of the same inconsistencies as the rotation.  While Cubs relievers had a very respectable K/9 innings rate (9.98), they also had a tied for last BB/9 innings rate (4.25).  Young fireballer Carl Edwards, Jr struck out almost 1.5 men per inning, but also walked more than five per nine innings.  Mid-season acquisition Justin Wilson just couldn’t find the strike zone in his 3 months in Chicago, walking 19 men in less than 18 innings. Even All-Star closer Wade Davis (who signed with Colorado in the offseason) had an alarming 4.30 BB/9 rate.  Enter Cishek and Morrow.  Cishek has pitched 8 quality seasons, and has always been stingy with regards to base runners (0.90 WHIP for 2017) while Morrow seems to have found command after the Padres moved him to the bullpen after being almost exclusively a starter in Toronto after an inconsistent rookie bullpen year in Seattle (2007).  Since transitioning to a National League reliever, Morrow’s walk rate is less than 2/9 innings.  With Cishek and Morrow anchoring the 8th and 9th innings, Edwards, Wilson, Duensing, Pedro Strop, and the enigmatic Mike Montgomery will do their part to shorten games to 5 or 6 innings.

The Cubs seriously needed to fix their pitching staff if they were serious in contending for another World Series title in 2018, and they did so in impressive style. With any amount of hitting, this team could once again be very special.

Cubs back at Wrigley after 5-4 Roadtrip

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The Chicago Cubs are home vs. The Philadelphia Phillies tonight after a 5-4 road trip.  Last night the Cubs lost a tough one in the rubber match of a three-game set against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, a gem of a ball park.

The crowd was kind of anxious the whole night, either that or they were cold, dealing with temperatures in the high 40’s.  It was a tight game, until the dramatic 8th inning. In the top half, the Cubs tied it up on a close play at the plate, which was ruled in the Cubs’ favor upon video review. John Jay scored from second base on a dash to the plate and barely made it home. The review concurred that he was safe and the Cubs had tied up the game on two walks and a passed ball. Sometimes, you don’t need a base-hit. Baseball can be funny that way.

The Red Sox scored four runs in the last of the 8th inning off the bullpen. Pedro Strop uncorked a wild pitch to score a run.  Later, Addison Russell fielded a ground ball which would have a routine out but he threw to first in the dirt and the ball hopped away from first-baseman Anthony Rizzo, plating another two runs.  The BoSox didn’t pop the ball, but the Cubs helped them in the 8th inning and head back to Wrigley, 13-11 for the season. It’s not a great start. The Cubs have a slim one game lead in the Division.

Nothing is going to come easy for this team, it appears. This is the Cubs. One hopes that the team finds its identity and character. You can’t expect to take the field and win every game. That attitude may help, but you have to play your way to the W. Last season, the Cubs did that 103 times.

If the baseball race is a marathon, then this may be about the 3 mile mark. Many more miles to go before the end.

The Yankees come to town soon, and that will be an event at Wrigley for sure.

Cubs’ Bats go Boom! In a 14-3 Beatdown of Pirates

By Richard Kagan

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The Chicago Cubs have been putting up big numbers on the scoreboard on the road. They come back to Chicago in a week or so.  Can they continue their current torrid streak at the plate?

Lately, the team has been averaging 8.8 runs per game and hitters are spraying the ball all over the field. Jason Heyward has found his swing and has hit three home runs in the last four days. He belted a three-run homer against the Pirates in a 14-3 romp. Heyward is now batting .294 for the young season with 3 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Last season he hit .230 with seven home runs and 49 RBI’s.

Heyward has said he’s been working on his swing and he hopes his production continues. So do Cubs fans.

Addison Russell had four singles and Ben Zobrist hit a bases-loaded clearing double.  Kris Bryant is finding his stroke and had a three hit night. So did Miguel Montero.  Listen, these guys can hit. They hit in the dreary-like conditions in Pittsburgh, where it was a good idea to dress with the winter coat.

Imagine what may happen on a sunny day at Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out?  The way the pitching has been going, the Cubs may win 15-7.  Last night Brett Anderson looked like a starting pitcher in his outing. The starting pitching looks a bit vulnerable now. Kyle Hendricks has yet to find his groove.  Jon Lester has yielded more runs than usual. Jake Arrieta looks starter-ready.  But the Cubs offense might off-set the shaky starters — for a while.

It is a long season, and the Cubs have played less than 20 games, but signs are looking positive, just as the Ivy begins to bloom again on the walls in the outfield. The Ivy will come up.

Hopefully the bats continue to come alive as we head deeper into Spring.

 

Walk-off HR by Russell Beats Brewers, 7-4

By Richard Kagan

addy russellOn a cold, cloudy day in Chicago, Addison Russell brightened for the Cubs fans at Wrigley Field by hitting a three run homer to cap a four run 9th inning rally.  The Cubs won 7-4 and finished its first homestand of the season, 4-5.

Chicago is (8-7) and is not exactly setting the League on fire. But it is cold and the bats are just waking up. The Cubs pitching has been less than impressive but there is talent and one has to hope the pitching staff will come around.  Today Addison Russell came around on a pitch thrown by Naftali Perez that landed in the bleachers in left.  A lot of Cubs greeting Russell as he touched home plate. It was an exciting win that heralds more in this unique season: The first that the Cubs play as defending World Series Champs.

Kris Bryant got the RBI that tied the game at 4.  He has yet to find a groove to his swing. But it is coming.

One thing for sure, this team knows drama. They’ve won a couple of exciting games in the past few days.  Baseball is a game of ebb and flow, of quietness and then sudden fierce action. Baseball features the circus catch in deep center-field ala Wille Mays, the deep blast to rightfield, and the outfielder throwing home to the plate in hopes of catching the runner as he slides in.

There are the endless foul balls hit by a batter trying to solve a pitcher. Then the pitcher throwing over to first to keep a runner close to the base.  It all happens in this game, and it could happen soon.

The season is underway, the Cubs are 8-7 and heading to play the Reds for the Division lead.  This isn’t the hot start that the Cubs had in 2016.  This is a club that is revving up the engine for the long haul of summer.

Richard Kagan is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

Good Baseball is Contagious, So is Bad! Not the Time for Gloom and Doom

By:  Jim Tsapelas

I have been following baseball in general, and the St Louis Cardinals in particular, since the mid-1950’s.  It may be the crankiness of my status as a senior citizen, or as I prefer Elder Statesman, however, I am finding myself growing increasingly tired of the prophets of gloom and doom and their seemingly relentless condemnation of the St. Louis Cardinals.  This morning I read a Cardinal writer, a self identified sabermetric guru, who prophesied the “Cardinals are projected to lose 142 games this season.”

Granted, the Cardinals have begun the 2017 season rather poorly and their record as of Thursday, April 13, 2017 is 3-6. Plus, they have yet to win one of the three series against the Cubs, Reds, or Nationals. However, what kind of nut could base a projection of one hundred forty-two losses on such a small sample?  It is time for Cardinal Nation to suspend the rhetoric of Gloom and Doom and take a more realistic look at the 2017 season and the series which ended Wednesday with the Washington Nationals.

Wednesday’s 6 to 1 victory over the Nationals, followed a loss on Monday to the Nationals by the score of 14 to 6, and on Tuesday by a score 8 to 3.  I, like any Cardinal fan, would like our record to be 9-0, or even 6-3, but it is also not realistic to expect the Redbirds to win one hundred sixty-two games a season either!

The Cardinals’ offense has been, at best, somewhat anemic.  In the Cubs’ series, the Redbirds scored 9 runs on 22 hits, striking out 16 times, while leaving 63 runners on base.  Against the Reds, St. Louis scored 12 runs, with 24 strikeouts, leaving 47 on base. Playing in our Nation’s Capitol, against the Nationals, the Birds on the Bat scored 15 runs, with 27 strikeouts, and abandoning 34 runners on the basepaths.

In the first 9 games, there has not been any semblance of consistent hitting, plate discipline, or effective base running.  Thus far in 2017, the Cardinals have averaged 26 strike outs a series and have left an average of 48 men on base, for each series.

I have long held the belief that Manager Mike Matheny inherited a good team.  There is no arguing the Cardinals’ success during his tenure.  Since assuming the helm from Tony LaRussa, Matheny’s managerial record in St. Louis, in 819 games, is 464-355.  Matheny is 5th in wins for Cardinals’ managers.  As I stated, Matheny inherited well.  This season Matheny has made some managerial decisions which would make the most casual and passive arm-chair fan take notice.

On Opening Day, Matheny brought in Seung Hwan Oh to attempt a five out save.  As a manager, Matheny has a reputation in helping his players reach individual records or personal milestones.  It make sense to bring in Oh, in the ninth, to get the save, however, he had 6 other relievers to secure the last two outs in the 8th inning of Game One.  Cardinals’ starter, Carlos Martinez deserved the game’s victory.  Martinez threw 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing 6 hits and striking out 10. In my opinion, Martinez was robbed.

I have been critical of Matheny’s handling and use of the bullpen for a majority of his managerial career.  Some of my concerns include his stubborn slotting a reliever with a particular role, choosing to leave a reliever in a designated role, regardless of the pitcher’s effectiveness or outcome.

This season I question what I describe as Matt Adams “over use” in left-field.  I am a fan of Matt Adams.  I believe he has disciplined himself and has committed himself to getting into the best shape of his entire playing career.  It is difficult to watch Matheny’s misuse of Adams in left.  As a professional athlete, I am sure Adams can eventually learn and adapt to the nuances of left field.  I question playing Adams in left when Jose Martinez, who has considerable experience in left, is on the team. In 8 plate appearances this season, involving 6 games, J. Martinez has 4 hits-including a double and a home run, with 3 RBI’s, while striking out just once, and is batting .500.  Adams deserves better treatment.

A glaring weak spot on the 2017 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals thus far has been the bullpen.  In addition to the arguable misuse of the relievers by Matheny, individual members of the pen have experience control and performance issue.  In 2016, the bullpen was one of the bright spots for the Cardinals.  So far in 2017, the bullpen has been somewhat of a liability.  In the scheme of the Birds’ 3-6 record, the bullpen owns 2 of the 6 losses, has accounted for 2 blown saves, and stole a win from Carlos Martinez in the opener.

Defensively, the Cardinals committed 7 errors in the 9 games. As a point of reference, the 2007 season was the last Cardinal team to finish a season below .500; having amassed only seventy-eight wins.

The season is long with many winding and difficult turns.  It is no secret that currently the Cardinals are in a slump.  There are 153 games left.  As the St. Louis native and HOF’er Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over”.  I wish the Cardinals and their fans success and peace in the days ahead.

Poor play and execution?  Yes.  Multiple missed opportunities?  Yes.  An urgent need for Cardinal Nation to cry Gloom and Doom?  No, not yet!

 Thanks for reading!

Jim Tsapelas is a feature author for A View From the Bench and is an editor and contributor for NL Central Discussion.

Tonight, the Banner Flies at Wrigley

By Richard Kagan

Tonight, the Cubs will hoist the World Series Banner atop of the Center Field Scoreboard.  It was along time coming.

In fact, 1wrigley field08 years. President Teddy Roosevelt was President when the Cubs last won the Series.  He supposedly “walked softy and carried a big stick.” I don’t think these Cubs walk softly. When the Cubs bats come alive, it is hit after hit after hit, a walk, and another hit. The Cubs can score runs in bunches. In  their last game, vs. the Brewers, they scored 11, and won. Jason Heyward is swinging the bat. He drove in three runs last night. Kris Bryant came out of his slump and punched the ball around. Kyle Schwarber hit another home run. So did Zobrist. And Jake Arrieta won his second game of the year.

Jon Lester takes the mound against the LA Dodgers in this new-found rivalry. Before the Cubs started winning, Chicago looked to the Dodgers as that elusive, hard-to-beat club that seemingly throw out a great pitcher every time the Cubs landed in LA.  The Jake Arrieta no-hit the Dodgers in 2015 and it seemed that game served notice to LA, The Cubs are here and you can’t take us lightly anymore.  Or course, the Cubs beat LA in last season’s NLCS.  The Dodgers have the kind of uniform that speaks volumes. You wear the history when you put on the colors of LA.  All those World Series appearances, the great catch of Al Gionfriddo that robbed Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 Series.  Jackie Robinson stealing home against the Yankees, and Sandy Koufax who was virtually un-hittable for a while. Those players wore Dodger Blue.

The Cubs are building their own legacy. And it starts with the banner ceremony at Wrigley. It should be something else.