Category: NL Central

Cubs back at Wrigley after 5-4 Roadtrip

wrigley field

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.

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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.

 

Success Breeds Contempt

By Omar Gobby:

The Duke Blue Devils.  The New England Patriots.  The Green Bay Packers.  The St. Louis Cardinals.  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The New York Yankees.  All winners.  All very much hated outside their own fan bases.

But why the hatred?  They are all programs with long-standing traditions of success.  Duke has been to 11 NCAA finals (won 5 of them).  The Packers have more titles (13) than anyone else in NFL history.  The Cardinals have been to 19 World Series (winning 11 of them).  The Irish have laid claim to at least 13 NCAA championships and 7 Heisman Trophy winners.  The Patriots have become a January fixture, making the playoffs in 14 of the last 16 seasons.  To add insult to injury, they have won 5 Super Bowl titles in that span.  And then there are the New York Yankees.  Is there a more hated team in American professional sports?  And why not hate a team that boasts more Hall of Famers  (62, if one includes broadcasters), retired numbers (19), pennants (40), and World Series titles (27!) than anyone else in MLB history?  Why all this vitriol directed at these teams? I will tell you why:  they win.  Period.

Which brings us to the Chicago Cubs.

I am a lifelong Cubs fan.  I went to my first game in 1975, watching the Cubs and Manny Trillo go down to the Atlanta Braves on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon. I ran home from school to watch the greatest regular season game from my youth.  I got excited when Bump Wills (Maury’s kid) was acquired. I got pissed when they traded Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa and some kid shortstop named Sandberg. I got excited every March and disappointed every August.  Same old Cubs.

And the Cubs were everyone’s lovable losers.  They had not tasted October since 1945, nor had they actually won the whole thing since 1908.  So when 1984 rolled around, I sat on the edge of my seat along with baseball fans everywhere.  It was hip to be a Cubs fan.  It was cool to pull for the underdogs.  Alas, it was not to be.

“Same Old Cubs!” was the cry going up all over.  Same old losers.  1908….1945….1969.  Those numbers haunted Cubs fans and energized people nationally.  THIS year just HAS to be the one, people muttered.  Poor Cubs cannot catch a break.

And they couldn’t.  The 1985 season opened with such promise, and then it seemed that each and every pitcher on the staff went down, in succession, with injuries.  Oh well.  “Wait’ll Next Year!” yet again.

1989. 1998.  More of the national support for Cubs teams which seemed to come from nowhere.  “Everyone” was pulling for them to win!  And that magical 1998 Home Run Race…”it brought back baseball”, as this video says.  Say what you will about the ethical issues surrounding that race, it surely did re-energize a game which was declining in popularity.  And it sure did not hurt that the Cubs were smack dab in the middle of it.  People everywhere wanted on to the Cubs bandwagon.  It was great.

2003…we all know what happened.  Next.

2007, another Cubs team “out of nowhere”.  2008, led the NL in wins (97).  And people everywhere wanted to be there for “it”…it was still cool to be a Cubs fan.  To support this sad sack cursed Cubs team.

2015.  An improved team, built from the ground up by architects Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and, to a lesser extent, Jim Hendry.  A team meant to contend a few years down the line.  But they didn’t want to wait.  That hungry and young team went out and won 97 games and made it to the NLCS, bowing out against the New York Mets.  This seemed to be just the Same Old Cubs, yet again.

We all know what happened in 2016.  And something changed.  All those people who wanted to see the end of the longest drought in American Professional Sports stopped for a moment.  This was not an out of nowhere team.  This was not a fluke win.  This is a young team, with all its top stars under control for a few years. The tables have turned.  The Cubs are universally recognized as the top team in the game, and there are already rumblings and grumblings about that.  Cardinals and White Sox fans have their ire directed at all things Cub these days, and that trend will only grow.

I have told anyone who will listen that my biggest goal, as a Cubs fan, is to have my team be hated the way the Yankees are hated.  Because people are disgusted by a winner.  They want the underdog.  After 108 years of being everyone’s underdog, I am ecstatic that the Cubs are the favorites, and look to remain there for the foreseeable future.

 

Cardinals Pass The Audition – Time For The Real Games To Begin

The St. Louis Cardinals finished the 2017 Spring Season, 20-8-4, the best record in the National League this spring.  This is the first time the Redbirds have won 20 games in the spring since 1997.  Sophisticated fans know all too well, the games of spring have no real impact upon the games of summer.

Spring Training is a time for auditioning, planning, developing, and assessing.  The Cards’ spring appears to have been a successful one; as their record indicates.  The 2017 Season begins with one of the hottest, if not the hottest rivalry in baseball, as the 2016 World Champions Chicago Cubs travel to Busch Stadium to take on the St. Louis Cardinals.

Coming out of Grapefruit League play, I believe the Cardinals need to focus on creating more offensive production in leftfield and 2nd base.  With the loss of Matt Holiday, via Free Agency to the New York Yankees, the leftfield position is Randall Grichuk’s to lose.  This spring Grichuk was 15 for 55, with a .236 batting average, and belted 1 home run.  Seeking to increase his value to the Cardinals, as he hopes to increase his MLB appearances, is one of the brighter stories coming out of spring, Jose Martinez.  Last season with the Birds on the Bat, J. Martinez had 7 hits in 16 plate appearances.  This spring, J. Martinez went 19/50, with a .380 batting average, and hit 4 home runs.  Also this season, primarily to his dramatic weight loss and outstanding physical conditioning, Matt Adams is also available for duty in leftfield.  This spring, Adams was 16/47, with a .340 average, hitting 5 home runs.

There is no need for this writer to re-hash the stories and drama surrounding Kolton Wong.  I personally believe Wong is capable of being an elite 2nd baseman.  I also believe, early on in the 2017 season, we may witness Manager Mike Matheny use a platoon combination at 2nd.  Matheny has the option of either starting Kolton Wong or Greg Garcia against right handed pitching, or starting Jedd Gyorko against southpaws.  Wong has a career .248 batting average.  This spring, Wong was 10/52, batting .192.  Garcia went 15/51, for a .294 average, and hit one home run.  Against left hand pitching, the right handed hitting Gyorko was 9/47, with a .191 batting average, and belted 2 home runs.  Last season Gyorko launched 30 of his MLB career 79 home runs.  Gyorko is a career .238 hitter.  Gyorko is a threat off the bench.

I have been often asked, “Do the Cardinals have enough starting pitching”?  My answer is yes.  This is no way to speculate on how significant the loss of Alex Reyes this season to Tommy John Surgery shall prove.  The starting rotation of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, and Mike Leake, are all capable, if right, to provide success in 2017.  If the Cardinals make a move, I believe it will be for starting pitching.  If not, be prepared to see many hurlers make the trek from Memphis to St. Louis, this season.

I am convinced the NL Central is the Chicago Cubs to lose.  I believe the Cardinals can be competitive in the Central Division.  I also believe the Redbirds will be in the fight for a Wild Card berth, with Chicago, again, winning the Division.  However, to quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over, until it’s over”.  The fact of the matter is, the season has yet to begin.

As a fan I am excited to see the Cardinals 1st series of the 2017 Season is against the Chicago Cubs.  Play Ball!

Thanks for reading!

Jim Tsapelas is a featured author for A View from the Bench.