Category: Chicago Cubs

Five More Home Runs as Mets Complete Sweep of Cubs; Flores goes 6 for 6

By Paul DiSclafani

Wilmer Flores ties franchise record with six hits against Cubs AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Wilmer Flores ties franchise record with six hits against Cubs
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Mets (44-37) accomplished a four game sweep of the Cubs for only the second time in franchise history as they pounded Jon Lester and three other Chicago pitchers (including catcher Miguel Montero) for five home runs and 22 hits in a 14-3 win. The only other time the Mets completed a four game sweep of the Cubs in the regular season was 1985.  Oh yeah, they swept the Cubs in the NLCS last year, too.

Third baseman by default, Wilmer Flores, who has been mired in an 0-14 funk while Jose Reyes looms in the not too distant future, tied a franchise record going 6-6 with two home runs and four runs batted in. Flores raised his average 31 points from .224 to .255.  Edgardo Alfonzo is the only other Mets player to have six hits in a game (1999).

Once again, the Mets offense battered the best the Cubs (51-30) have to offer. One night after beating the reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and his 2.10 ERA, the Mets were facing Jon Lester with an even better ERA (2.03) and his 9-3 record.  Lester didn’t even make it out of the second inning for the first time in 301 career starts.

The Mets batted around in the second inning, scoring seven times, knocking Lester out of the game after just 1 1/3 innings pitched. Flores greeted Lester with a home run to give the Mets a 2-1 lead and after he struck out James Loney, Lester never got another out.  The Mets strung together seven hits and a walk before manager Joe Maddon mercifully came out to get Lester.  Before most fans even got back from the line at the Shake Shack, the Mets led 8-1.

Lester (L, 9-4) finished with eight runs (all earned) on nine hits and a walk while surrendering three home runs. Curtis Granderson hit number 14 in the first to tie the game at 1-1 and Rene Rivera hit a two run bomb during the seven run second.  Lester hadn’t given up eight earned runs in his last six starts combined.

The recipient of all this run support was Noah Syndergaard (W, 9-3) who showed no real signs of the elbow discomfort that plagued him the last two starts, but also didn’t have to work too hard with a seven run lead after two innings. Syndergaard went seven innings scattering seven hits and striking out eight without walking a batter.  He hasn’t walked a batter at Citi Field in 35 innings, dating back to May 1.

In their four game sweep against the team with the best record in the National League, the Mets came back on Thursday (trailing 3-0 in the seventh) to win 4-3; hit five home runs on Friday to win 10-2; held on to win 4-3 against Arrieta on Saturday and then chased Lester with 14 runs on Sunday. In the four games, they scored 32 runs and banged out 48 hits, including 12 home runs.

And it all started with a monster home run by Yoenis Cespedes on Thursday. Trailing 3-0 in the seventh and managing only two hits against John Lackey, Cespedes launched the longest home run ever to be hit at Citi Field in a game, three rows deep into the third deck in left field.  ESPN measured it at 466 feet and the velocity off the bat was 110 mph. At the time Terry Collins said, “I think it woke us. I really do. He hadn’t hit one in a while and that was a big one. I really think that got the guys energized.”  Guess Collins was right because the Mets scored 31 runs in their next 26 innings.

Mets hit 25 home runs in 27 games in June, and have now hit 11 in the first three days of July.

Mets start a three game series against the Marlins in a late afternoon holiday game with Matt Harvey (4-10, 4.55) against Tom Koehler (6-7, 4.45). Harvey’s 10 losses are tied for worst in the league.

POSITIVES: Mets were 8-18 W/RISP Every starter had two hits except Flores (6) and Reynolds (1).  Even Syndergaard had a hit … Kelly Johnson PH a HR in the seventh, his third as a Met … Cubs catcher Miguel Montero pitched for the first time in his career, getting the last four outs.  It the first time the Mets have faced a position player on the mound since 2011 … CJ Cron, who went 6 for 6 last night for the Angels and Flores are the first players in MLB history to do it on consecutive nights.

NEGATIVES: Not today, friends.  Not this weekend …

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Colon Outduels Arrieta as Mets Beat Cubs Again, 4-3

By Paul DiSclafani:

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

What is going on out there in Flushing?

The Mets (43-37) got to Chicago ace Jake Arrieta early and held on for their third straight win against the NL Central leaders, 4-3. Unbelievably, the Mets go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.

When the Mets limped home from Washington DC after being swept by the Nationals on Wednesday, they were facing an 11 game home stand starting with four games against the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. In third place and now six games behind the Nationals, fans on Social Media were jumping off the bandwagon and already looking forward to the opening of NFL training camps.

Instead of throwing in the towel against the formidable Cubs, who not only had beaten the Mets nine straight since 2014 but had a chip on their shoulder and something to prove after being swept by the Mets in the NLCS, they regrouped and circled the wagons.

“You can believe you can compete, but then when you go out and do it, it means a lot,” manager Terry Collins said about the importance of playing well in this series against the Cubs. Thursday they managed a comeback 4-3 win, Friday they hit five home runs in a 10-2 drubbing and tonight they beat Chicago’s Ace, who was 12-2.

“The confidence that it sends throughout the clubhouse, there is no other way to do it except to go out there and beat one of the real good teams and we’ve done that and we want to finish it off tomorrow.”

Just as they did in Game 2 of the NLCS, the Mets got a first inning, 2-run home run from their second baseman just inside the right field foul pole, only this time it was Neil Walker giving the Mets an early 2-0 lead with his 15th home run of the year.  Arrieta then gave up a double to Yoenis Cespedes, then settled down to get the next 10 in a row.

Starter Bartolo Colon cruised through the first three innings without allowing a hit, but Kris Bryant led off the fourth with a single right before Anthony Rizzo launched a 423 foot shot to center field to tie the game at 2-2.

In the Mets half of the fourth with one out, Asdrubal Cabrera broke through the shift with a base hit and after Wilmer Flores popped out, Arrieta walked Alejandro Del Aza, moving Cabrera to second with two outs. That brought up Travis d’Arnaud who took a strike, then blooped the next pitch into nowhere man’s land over second base and just out of the reach of second baseman Javier Baez.  De Aza scored all the way from first behind Cabrera to give the Mets a 4-2 lead.

Colon (W, 7-4) was magnificent the rest of the way, allowing just two more hits and departing in the sixth with the 4-2 lead. “Sometimes he escapes words,” said Collins after the game about Colon.  “He just never ceases to amaze you.”  Of course, the Cubs were not going to go quietly.

Eric Goeddel got the first two outs in the seventh, but Ben Zobrist made it 4-3 on the first pitch he saw with a home run to right. That brought in Jerry Blevins who got ahead of Jason Heyward 0-2, then walked him, prompting Collins to go to Addison Reed a little early to face Kris Bryant.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Addison,” Collins said about bringing Reed in before the eighth inning. “You just gotta trust him.  You trust guys that can throw strikes, because hitting is hard.  If you can locate and you can make your pitch and a guy gets a hit, you tip your hat.  And that’s what Addison has done ever since he’s been here.  He just makes pitches.  There is a certain stage in the game where you think, ‘Hey, this is where we are going to win the game or lose the game’, and I thought we needed to get Bryant out and I thought Addy was the guy to do it.”

Reed got ahead of Bryant 1-2, but a wild pitch moved Heyward into scoring position. Reed then bore down and got Bryant swinging to end the inning.  Back in his more familiar position in the eighth, Reed allowed a leadoff single to Rizzo, then struck out the next three – Wilson Contreras, Miguel Montero and Addison Russell, all flailing at strike three.

That set up Jeurys Familia to try and nail down the save. Unlike Friday night when the Cubs loaded the bases, Familia needed just nine pitches to secure his 28th save of the season and his 44th consecutive regular season save.

Arrieta (L, 12-3) had won his first 12 decisions this year and has now lost three of his last six starts. He allowed four earned runs and eight hits in just 5 1/3 innings and struggled with a 35-pitch first inning. Arrieta, the reigning CY Young Award winner in the NL, had not lost a game on the road since May of last year (19-0 in 24 starts).

Noah Syndergaard (8-3) goes for the sweep on Sunday against Jon Lester (9-3). Matt Harvey beat Lester in the NLCS Opener last year and Syndergaard beat Arrieta in Game 2.

POSITIVES: Loney made a nice 3-3-6 DP in the third … Walker with 15 home runs, is just one shy of his total for all of 2015 … Colon has not given up more than 2 earned runs in a game since May 18 … Juan Lagares got into the game, but hit into a double play in the sixth … Curtis Granderson could return to the lineup on Sunday … Brandon Nimmo led off again with a walk and another hit … d’Arnaud was 2-3 with 2 RBI.

NEGATIVES: Mets had eight hits against Arrieta, but failed to get a base runner after he left them game with one out in the sixth … Loney and Flores were both 0-4

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Five Home Runs Power Mets Past Cubs Again, Arrieta is Next

By Paul DiSclafani:

Brandon Nimmo Celebrates First Major League Home Run in 10-2 rout of Cubs AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Brandon Nimmo Celebrates First Major League Home Run in 10-2 rout of Cubs
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Within the span of two games against the team with the best record in baseball, the Mets have brought their fans back a few more feet from the ledge as they hit five home runs against pitcher Jason Hammel on Friday in a 10-2 drubbing between multiple rain delays to go along with Thursday’s thrilling come from behind 4-3 win, which snapped a four game losing streak. Although the Mets had lost nine consecutive regular season games to the Cubs since 2014, they have now beaten them six straight, including a sweep of last year’s NLCS.

With nothing specific to point to other than the infectious smile of rookie Brandon Nimmo, the gloom and doom of being swept in Washington earlier in the week has given way to hope and optimism. That is, until Jake Arrieta takes the mound for the Cubs tonight.

Arrieta, arguably the league’s best pitcher at 12-2 will try to use that league leading 2.10 ERA to his advantage against a Mets team that is suddenly feeling its Wheaties.

The Mets finally provided some run support for Jacob deGrom on Friday as they tied a team record hitting five home runs against the same pitcher, allowing deGrom (4-4) to become a winner for the first time since April 30th, snapping a 10 game winless streak.  Asdrubal Cabrera (twice), Yoenis Cespedes (#20), James Loney and Nimmo hit home runs in the rout.  For Nimmo, it was his first in the major leagues (measured at 442 feet) and prompted the appreciative Citi Field crowd to demand a curtain call.  Nimmo, smiling all the way around the bases, gave the ball, which landed in the bullpen area, to his parents, who were in attendance.   Loney and Cabrera went back-to-back in the second inning.

In addition to his home run (and curtain call), Nimmo made a sliding one-handed catch of a fly ball in right field, prompting manager Terry Collins to say, “It’s always nice to have those young guys come up, because they bring energy.”

Now we’ll see how that energy translates to offense against Arrieta. Since tossing six shutout innings against the Pirates on 6/17 and lowering his ERA to 1.74, Arrieta has come back down to Earth a little.  He was the losing pitcher against St. Louis on 6/22 and lasted only five innings in his last start against, of all teams, the last place Reds.  Arrieta was charged with five earned runs and issued five walks, but the Cubs still managed to get him the “W” in an eventual 11-8 win.

The Mets roughed up Arrieta in Game 2 of the NLCS for three runs in the first inning highlighted by two-run home run by Daniel Murphy en route to a 4-1 win. But Arrieta is 2-1 lifetime against the Mets with a 1.82 ERA in the regular season.

Bartolo Colon (6-4, 2.86) goes tonight and tries to keep this good feeling going for the Mets as they continue to tread water heading into the All Star break next week. After what the Mets have been through the last two weeks, they are certainly enjoying their new-found enthusiasm.

“I’m real aware that it’s the gloomiest days when you lose here,” Terry Collins said. “If you lose two or three in a row here, it’s very hard to deal with. But it’s a long year.”

POSITIVES: Mets hit five home runs in a home game for the fifth time in franchise history, but for the first time at cavernous Citi Field.  Last time was at Shea Stadium in 2000 against the Marlins … Juan Lagares has been activated for tonight’s game after going 6-18 with a triple and a couple of RBI with AA Binghamton as he continues to try to play through a partially torn ligament in his left thumb … Reliever Seth Lugo made his big league debut and pitched two scoreless innings of relief (2 hits and a HBP), but then was sent back to AAA Las Vegas to make room for Lagares.  He is the first Met to ever wear #67 – now THAT’s a future trivia answer …

NEGATIVES: Curtis Granderson will miss the rest of this series and the Mets expect to make a decision on whether to put him on the DL today or tomorrow … David Wright looked gaunt in speaking to the media yesterday and has resigned himself to the fact that he will not play again this season.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at A View From the Bench, an official affiliate of MLB.com. A View from the Bench is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Cubs Finding Out About Nimmo as Mets Snap Four Game Skid

By Paul DiSclafani:

Brandon Nimmo celebrates his first Major League RBI in Mets 4-3 win over the Cubs AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Brandon Nimmo celebrates his first Major League RBI in Mets 4-3 win over the Cubs
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The Mets (41-37) snapped a nine game regular season losing streak against the Cubs (51-27) with a come from behind 4-3 win, scoring three times in the seventh inning and holding their breath as the Cubs threatened in the ninth inning. Jeuurys Familia worked out of a jam as the Cubs put runners on second and third with no outs.

Trailing 3-0 in the sixth and being held to just two hits by Cubs starter John Lackey, the Mets seemed well on their way to their fifth straight loss when lightning struck in the form of Yoenis Cespedes.

After getting Neil Walker to foul out to first to start the sixth inning, Lackey fell behind Cespedes 2-0 before the Cuban launched a moon shot into the third deck in left field (section 436 to be exact) to put the Mets on the board and cut the lead to 3-1. Nobody has ever hit a home run into the third deck in Citi Field since the park opened in 2009, but Cespedes was among a handful of players that did it during the 2013 Home Run Derby.

The homerun energized not only the crowd but the Mets as the bench erupted.

Mets starter Steven Matz, who was pitching with an extra day’s rest, put them in a 2-0 hole after just five pitches when Kris Bryant followed Ben Zobrist’s leadoff single with a home run. He later gave up a solo home run to Javier Baez in the sixth.  Matz pitched just 5 1/3 and issued three walks and seven hits to go along with six strikeouts.

Eric Goddel (W, 1-0), who relieved Matz in the sixth and got the final two outs, threw just 10 pitches to finish the seventh inning when the Mets offense went back to work.

With Lackey still on the mound, Travis d’Arnaud singled to left with one out after Wilmer Flores opened the inning with a line drive out to center. That was it for Lackey, who was replaced by Joel Peralta.  Peralta got ahead of pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza 1-2, but eventually lost him, putting runners on first and second.

Rookie Brandon Nimmo, making only his fifth start for the Mets, also fell behind Peralta 1-2, but he kept battling, fouling off three straight before singling up the middle and collecting his first major league RBI as d’Arnaud scored to make it 3-2. With De Aza racing to third, center fielder Albert Almora threw to third late and Nimmo alertly took second on the throw.

“I’m just trying to stay calm, act like nobody is on base,” Nimmo said about his RBI single. “… I was absolutely ecstatic. It is hard to put into words because this is just something I dreamed about ever since I was a kid. To be able to come through and help the team win, you always need it, but tonight was really, really big. To just be able to help the team somehow and be able to come up here, it feels good to contribute.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon then summoned Pedro Strop to pitch to Walker and decided to play the infield in to try to cut down the tying run at the plate. Strop got ahead of Walker 1-2 and he grounded it slowly to second base.  Even with the infield in, Baez had no play at home, so he fired to third to get Nimmo as he tried to advance.  But Bryant, who was also playing in at third, didn’t get back to the bag in time and the throw went off his glove and into foul territory, allowing Nimmo to score along with De Aza and the Mets took a 4-3 lead.

Now it was up to the bullpen to hold the lead and get the Mets a win they desperately needed. But the Cubbies were not going to go quietly into the night.

Wilson Contreras greeted Addison Reed with a single to lead off the eighth and moved to second on a wild pitch. Reed struck out Baez and Chris Coghlan, but then walked Addison Russell and Terry Collins brought in Jerry Blevins to face pinch hitter Jason Heyward.  Why not bring in Familia for a four out save in that situation?  Blevins got behind Heyward 2-1, but got him to ground one back to the mound and the Mets were out of the inning, still clinging to a 4-3 lead.

That set the stage for Familia as he tried to nail down his 27th save of the season and 43rd in a row.  After getting ahead of pinch hitter Miguel Montero 0-2, he walked him on four straight pitches, then gave up a booming double to Zobrist over Nimmo’s head in right field and the Cubs were in business with second and third and no outs and Bryant coming up.

“I’ve been in that situation before”, Familia said, “I try to calm down a little bit, don’t get too high, control my emotions and make my pitch.”

Familia pounded Bryant with splitters out of the strike zone and struck him out for the first out. After intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo, Familia pounded Countreras the same was as Bryant, getting him swinging for the second out.  He then got Baez to pop up an 0-2 pitch to end the game.

If there was ever a “must” win game for the Mets this season, this was it. Coming off a moribund 2-5 road trip in which they had more injuries than runs scored, facing the best team in baseball for a four game set was not what they had in mind.  Even though the Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS, the Cubs were much improved and the Mets were not.

“It sure came at the right time, to come back against that team the first game of this 11-game homestand,” Collins said. “I think it’s huge for us. It lifted the spirits of everybody in there that they could come back and win a game, which we haven’t done in a while.”

As the Mets say good-bye to a miserable June, Jacob deGrom (3-4, 2.67) faces off against Jason Hammel (7-4, 2.58) on Friday night. DeGrom is 0-4 in his last 10 starts and hasn’t won a game since April 30th.  Hammel has never beaten the Mets in five starts (0-3).

POSITIVES: Familia leads all of baseball with 27 saves … Mets had lost nine straight to the Cubs dating back to 2014 … Cespedes has 19 home runs … Mets had just six hits, but d’Arnaud had two of them …

NEGATIVES: Granderson was out of the lineup after an MRI revealed a mild strain of his left calf.  He may miss a couple of games, but Juan Lagares is ready to come off the DL.

Is “Next Year” FINALLY Here?

By Omar Gobby

Here we sit on the eve of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and the Chicago Cubs sit in the unfamiliar seat belonging to the overwhelming favorites.

This is not a team, despite the protestations of many haters, that has not experienced success.  The Cubs have been in the playoffs 7 times since 1984.  This is more than 11 teams (not including expansion teams Arizona,Colorado, Miami, and Tampa).  The problem is that when they have met with success, they inevitably came crashing back down to earth shortly thereafter due to mismanagement and injuries and just some rotten luck.  The only Cubs’ team to actually live up to the hype was the 2008 edition.  They surprisingly won the division with 85 wins in 2007, behind a steady offense and a second in the National League (4.04 ERA) pitching staff.  That 2008 group added only a few new faces (Kosuke Fukudome, mid-season additions Jim Edmonds and Rich Harden) to an otherwise fairly intact roster and rolled to the National League’s best record (97-64) before getting whitewashed in a 3 game NLDS by the Dodgers, losing by a combined score of 20-6.  And just like that, the magic wore off.  No major on-field changes for 2009, and the team just plodded along, finishing barely over .500 (83-78).  But one significant change took place in July of that year which set the table for what Cubs fans are seeing today.  The 2010 team limped home (75-87) and changed managers (Mike Quade took over for the final 37 games) and started to clean house.  Fan favorite Derrek Lee was moved to the Braves and workhorse pitcher Ted Lilly (along with scrappy Ryan Theriot) found new homes with the Dodgers.  Along the way, some of the kids from the minor leagues started to get a taste of the Major Leagues.  Foremost among these was a kid shortstop named Starlin Castro.  And then there was 2011…

The disaster that was the 2011 season for the Cubs also was the first seed planted in their rebirth.  General Manager Jim Hendry was on the hot seat.  While he was responsible for developing some promising youngsters (Castro, Welington Castillo, Jeff Samardzjia, among others), he made questionable moves at the major league level (Carlos Pena, Marlon Byrd, Matt Garza).  The day he was fired (July 22, 2011) may end up as being the greatest day in Cubs modern history.

Shortly after the conclusion of that 2011 season, Ricketts made two hires.  He brought on former San Diego Padres General Manager Jed Hoyer to the same position with the Cubs and also brought on former Red Sox wunderkind Theo Epstein to run the show as team president.  And the effects were instantaneous.  Ineffective veterans were replaced either by cheaper youngsters (Luis Valbuena, Tony Campana, Travis Wood, some kid named Rizzo) or short term stopgap veterans (David DeJesus, Paul Maholm) and the team struggled (61-101 record) as younger guys got the chance to develop.  The June amateur draft, long an afterthought at Clark and Addison, became a centerpiece event.  Gone were the days of drafting whoever was there and here were the days of carefully scouting and drafting the right fits for the puzzle.  The first 3 years of Theo were painful to watch for outsiders, but exciting times for serious fans.  Cubs fans got to watch as prized youngsters such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Hendricks bided their time on the farm and other youngsters such as Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara, and Starlin Castro had their chance to show what they could do every day at the MLB level.  It did not pay off in wins and losses, but it surely helped in giving these kids confidence in their own abilities. It also didn’t hurt that Epstein/Hoyer were able to pull off shrewd deals (Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, and Jeff Samardzjia netted Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Billy McKinney, Addison Russell, and some guy named Jake).  Add to that one of the most successful coups in modern MLB history, and the foundation was firmly in place.

Why all this backstory?  Because, if the 2016 Chicago Cubs really do pull this off, the “Making of…” story will be just as important as the actual events as they unfold.

So, without further ado, I present the 2016 Chicago Cubs.

The Infield

Is there a better all-around infield in MLB?  There are three previous All-Stars (Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, and Anthony Rizzo)  and one probable  (Addison Russell) one in the starting spots.  Add to that a guy who would be starting for most MLB teams (Javier Baez) and a guy who is a great left handed contact bat (Tommy LaStella).

Defensively, this group is better than people think.  Bryant was far from a butcher at the Hot Corner, and Rizzo and Zobrist are both well respected defenders.  While Zobrist was disappointing defensively at second base in 2015, this seems to be a blip rather than a trend, as his metrics up to that point were stellar. Russell is already being mentioned, in his second season, with the elite shortstop defenders.  Baez is slick and smooth in the middle.  LaStella is steady.

Offensively, this group is good and only stands to get better.  Bryant did everything expected of him, and more, in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015.  Critics point out that he had a quite high strikeout rate (199 in 650 plate appearances), but fail to notice that he also was patient enough to coax 77 bases on balls (.369 OBP).  With a stringer lineup surrounding him, and one more year under his belt, his production should be just fine.

Rizzo simply had the best season of his career to date, in 2015.  He set career highs in hits, RBI, SB, walks, and runs scored while finishing 4th in NL MVP voting.  This team is squarely on his shoulders.

Addison Russell came up from Iowa shortly after Bryant and struggled at the plate while adjusting to a new position (2B). He settled into the lower part of the lineup, and took over at his natural shortstop position after the benching of Starlin Castro and put up better numbers all across the board.  With the lowered expectations that come with batting 7th or 8th, Russell is in a prime spot to have a breakout season with the bat.

Zobrist has been the model of consistency at the plate ever since becoming a regular with the Rays in 2009.  He has a bit more pop as a right handed hitter, but gets on base at a pretty much equal rate from each side.  This is one of the smartest acquisitions this team has made.

As for the reserves, LaStella is a good contact guy with low strikeout rates who provides a valuable left handed bench bat.  Baez has tremendous right handed power and flashes good speed.

The Outfield

This team has a problem many other teams wish they had.  What problem is that? How to find playing time for 4 top tier outfielders.

In center field, the Cubs resigned second half hero Dexter Fowler.  While he was not by any means an excellent defensive player, he was much better than he had been in previous years with Colorado and Houston.  His impact on this team was in many ways other than with the glove.  He got on base from the leadoff spot regularly (.346 OBP) and scored a lot (102 runs) while taking time to also pop a career high 17 HR.  His impact on the 2015 Cubs was much like what Gary Matthews meant to the 1984 Cubs.

In left field, the team actually faces a dilemma of sorts.  Former right fielder Jorge Soler and the hard hitting Kyle Schwarber will at least start off the year in a time share.  Neither player is likely to win the spot outright due to his glove, so Maddon is likely to just play the hot hand.  The games that Schwarber is playing at catcher or, as in the case of the opening series, the team needs a DH in an American League ballpark, both SOler and Schwarber will be able to be in the lineup.

Then there is right field.  One season after Jon Lester signed the richest deal in Cubs history,  Jason Heyward moved Lester to second place.  Heyward is not going to hit 30 HR.  He will not hit .340.  He will not drive in 120 runs.  What he WILL do is get on base at an excellent clip and provide other-worldly defensive support.  There have been plenty of offseason debates as to whether this deal is favorable for the Cubs or not.  Time will tell.  It stands to reason that if Heyward exercises his out clause and once again hits the free agency market after the 2018 season, that would indicate a “win-win” scenario for both player and team.

Catchers

The incumbent is Miguel Montero, and there is no reason not to expect more of the same from him.  He can be penciled in for .250-.270 with 12-18 HR and solid defense.  And there is not a thing wrong with that.  The catcher position is not one which is expected to be a major offensive producer anymore.  Teams rely on their backstops to stabilize a pitching staff and play 5 times a week.  That is exactly what Montero gives you.

Behind him is the stalwart David Ross, who has already announced that 2016 will be his last MLB season as a player.  He is the epitome of “Leader”.  He doesn’t put up the flashy stats, and never really has (2006 excepted).  What he does provide is leadership and insight.  His influence on the 2015 was far greater than his statistics would seem to indicate.

The rest…

Waiting in the wings in the case of injuries or ineffectiveness, the Cubs have Matt Szczur (who will open with the team while Baez is on the 15 Day DL), Arismendy Alcantara, Jeimer Candelario, Tim Fedorowicz, Kristopher Negron, Willson Contreras, Matt Murton, Shane Victorino, and Munenori Kawasaki.  Madden loves to use his roster, and any combination of these guys are likely to spend significant time with the 2016 Cubs.

 

And then there is the pitching…

Let’s first look at the bullpen.

Closing things will be Hector Rondon.  In Chicago sports, there are always two guys who the fans love to hate.  One is whoever is the starting QB for the Bears, the other is whoever is the 9th inning guy for the Cubs.  No matter what the incumbent is doing, the fans always seem to think the guy in waiting would do better.  The case is no different this year.

For a stretch last year, Rondon was removed from the closer role.  During the offseason, a lot of people were clamoring for Rondon to be replaced by such names as Papelbon, Chapman, etc.  I could understand that when your incumbent has been ineffective.  So, how ineffective has Rondon been?  How about 30/34 in saves, a 1.67 ERA, a crisp 1.00 WHIP?  Or how about during the summer months (June, July, August) when he had a 0.50 combined ERA with 15/16 saves?  This guy has been good, people.  He is also 28 years old, so just reaching his peak performance.  No need for a replacement.

Leading up to him will be where the Cubs can make or break their season.  The rest of the relief squad is filled with guys who have about as much upside as they do question marks.  When these guys are “on”, they’re on.  But when they’re “off”…

The top right hander in the pen is Pedro Strop.When he was good in 2015, he was REALLY good.  But when he was bad…just ask Bob Costas.  When looking at his performance breakdown, it is particularly alarming to see how he did when a runner reached third base. A .625 opponent’s batting average with the bases loaded has got to have sabremetric guru Maddon cringing.  To Maddon’s credit, he continues to let Strop try to work his way through these blips.

The top lefty is an interesting study.  Travis Wood was brought to the Cubs as a 25 year old starting pitcher with a great upside.  He was solid in his first two Cubs seasons with good peripheral numbers and an All Star appearance.  His third season was a disaster in every way, and he entered 2015 as the Cubs fifth starter.  As a starter, he seemed to hit a wall around the middle of the game, as he dropped precipitously in the 5th and 6th.  Madden saw this quickly and moved him to the bullpen after only 9 starts.  What a good move that turned out to be.  Wood became a reliable and durable member of that bullpen.  He was pretty effective against both right and left handed batters, so he was not relegated to your typical LOOGY status, and could be stretched out.

Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm seem to be the best options after that.  Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill had their moments, especially late in the season, but neither looks to be a major factor for 2016.  And interesting pitcher will be former Yankee Adam Warren who just may end up being the right handed equivalent of Travis Wood.  He was arguably more effective as a starting pitcher than out of the bullpen for the Yankees, and he will likely be shuffled between both roles for the Cubs in 2016.

Waiting in the wings, as relief pitchers tend to be shuttled in and out for every MLB team, are guys such as Zac Rosscup (on the 60 day DL), Manny Parra, Ryan Williams (who looked REALLY good in Arizona this Spring), Aaron Crow, and Jean Machi.

As for those starters, this is an intriguing group.

Lester was brought in to headline this staff coming into 2015.  He did everything ask of him except win a lot of games.  This was not his fault.  He so often pitched with horrible run support, as his peripheral statistics were all on par with his best years with Boston.  With a bit more luck and support, he easily would have been a 15+ game winner.

Postseason stud John Lackey was brought in to fill the #3 slot in the rotation.  He is coming off a very effective season (2.77 ERA, 5.7 WAR) with the hated Cardinals and should fit in nicely.

At 4 and 5, for the time being, are Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel.  Hendricks quietly had a pretty good season in 2015.  He has a decent repertoire and great makeup.  While I will not be so bold as to predict a Hall of Fame career for him, his composition is quite reminiscent of a young Greg Maddux.  Being slotted lower in the rotation will only help him as he learns from watching the veterans ahead of him.

Hammel is an interesting study.  He has yet, at age 33, to put together a solid full MLB season, but has always tempted with flashes of excellence.  2015 was no exception.  He was practically unhittable until he suffered a hamstring injury just before the All Star break.  While he didn’t miss significant time, he was not the same after the break.  While he can be a decent contributor to an average staff, I don’t see him being a major factor for a competitor.  I look for him to lose his rotation spot to Warren before long, and probably look for him to be moved to another team sometime in the summer.

Which brings us to the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta.  What he did after the calendar changed to June was simply sparkling.  He truly was unhittable.  What many fail to realize is that Arrieta was no one-hit wonder.  Ever since joining the Cubs in 2013, he has been dominant (36-13, 2.26 ERA, 0.940 WHIP, 14.7 WAR).  He had a 5.3 WAR (compared to 8.7 in 2015) in 2014 in only 25 starts.  This guy is good, people.  While no intelligent person expects him to put up the same supernatural numbers as he did in 2015, there is no reason to expect a dramatic downturn.

This staff, while not exactly the 1971 Orioles, is not one to take lightly.  When the dust settles, and that #5 slot is stabilized, this is a starting staff that can easily win 65-70 games.

When all is said and done, I see the 2016 Chicago Cubs triumphing in the NL Central Division, in the National League, and, dare I say it, in all of Major League Baseball.  They will defeat the Kansas City Royals 4 games to 2 on Tuesday November 3, 2016.  Not only will the free world elect a new President that day, the history books will be rewritten as 108 years of futility will finally come to an end.

 

 

Cubs Camp Opens With a Twist

By Richard Kagan

Cubring

Leave it to Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to shake things up. Yesterday he drove into Chicago’s Mesa, Arizona spring training camp with a 70’s era van, replete in a tie-dye T-shirt and bandanna.  Earth, Wind, & Fire music blasted from the van, as Madden’s prank stirred things up.

The Chicago Cubs are full of optimism this spring. And why not?  Loaded with off-season acquisitions, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Jason Heyward, The Cubs figure to be  the front-runners in the NL Central.

Based on a torrid Summer, the Cubs made the wild-card and beat the Pirates behind Jake Arrieta’s brilliant game. Arrieta, who picked up the NL’s Cy Young Award, is back with a newly minted contract.

Left-handed pitcher Travis Wood is expected to take the ball for the opening game of the Spring Training season.  The frontline starters of Arrieta, John Lester, and John Lackey are not expected to see action until next week.

The Cubs want to start off this Spring Training — this –feeling out process — in a managed way. The team knows what it has. It just wants to start out slowly.

Cubs Owner Says Mets Fans Are Obnoxious? I Got Your Obnoxious Right Here!

By: Paul DiSclafani

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

So the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, Todd Ricketts, thinks Mets fans are obnoxious, eh?

This morning, at the 2016 Cubs Convention, Ricketts had this to say as he addressed the fans of a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908,

“I don’t know if you know this, but Mets fans are really, really obnoxious.”

Of course, he had nothing but kind words to say about the fans of their two main rivals in the NL Central, the Cardinals and the Pirates, but when it came to the team that swept his Cubbies in the National League Championship Series, neither he nor his wife enjoyed their experience in Queens.

“She really, really hates the Mets.”

Well, isn’t that special?

Is it really breaking news that people outside of New York think we’re obnoxious?   Hello, we’re New Yorker’s – that’s our job!  Wasn’t anyone watching the Republican debate this week when Ted Cruz said all those nasty things about us?

Don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. Ricketts, but I thought we were on our best behavior against the Cubs. The Mets and Cubs were once fierce rivals, way before your family bought 95% of that franchise.  In case you didn’t know, your franchise committed one of the greatest chokes in the history of the game in 1969.  And we won another pennant on your field in 1973.

BartmanMetscatGoat

Do we really have to talk about your fan base? You may not realize it, but the Cub fans and the Mets fans are very much alike.  Most visiting players talk about what it is like to be on the field before games in both Chicago and New York and how they enjoy the harmless needling that goes on.

There are fan bases in many other cities that are physically intimidating to visiting fans – like Los Angeles, where they are killing people in the parking lots. Or how about Philadelphia – is there any worse place for a visiting player than in Philadelphia?  Yet you chose to call us obnoxious?

Listen very closely, Mr. Ricketts. Mets fans have been through a lot of ups and downs in a very short period of time.  We also have to deal with Yankee fans every minute of every day.  But at least we have had success in our lifetime.  What’s the percentage of Cubs fans that have witnessed a World Series Champion that are still alive?  Almost five generations have passed since that day.

When your 97-win team showed up in Flushing for the NLCS, there was plenty of bravado that they were not able to back up. Are you sure this lashing out isn’t just jealousy?

We know a thing or two about being the “Little Brother” in this town with the shadow of the Evil Empire always looming over us. It sounds to me like you are whining about the fact that your team just got beat.

You know there is a reason why Chicago is called “The Second City”, because they like to THINK they are better than New York, but in the end, well, they just aren’t.

So go ahead, make your little snide remarks about our fan base and say what you want. You can’t change history and you can’t make that sweep go away, Mr. Ricketts.  The fact remains that the Mets are the National League Champions and the Cubs aren’t.  And we won the damn thing on your field, in front of your faithful fans.

terry collins 2And one other thing, if you mess with the bull, you get the horns. See you and your family in June, Mr. Ricketts, if you’re man enough to make the trip.  Maybe we can show you what being obnoxious is all about…

 

Hall of Fame, Hall of The Very Good or Hall of Cheaters?

1936 hall of fame

The first Hall of Fame inductees in 1936 including Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb

 

By Mike Moosbrugger

I originally wrote this article in January of 2015 shortly after the Hall of Fame voting and the announcement of the players to be inducted. I am reposting this article to bring to your attention a very big change in who will be permitted to vote from now on to enshrine players in Cooperstown. Look at the four changes that I call for in how the voting is done. The second one listed has in fact been changed for the 2016 voting! There will be 100 less “writers” allowed to cast a ballot this year. The Hall of Fame has decided that if you have not actively covered baseball for the last 10 years then you lose your right to vote. It is no longer a lifetime privilege. Good job by the Hall of Fame Committee because that one issue really needed to change. The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on January 6th 2016. Ken Griffey Jr. is a lock to get elected. Trevor Hoffman may have to wait another year or two.  

It was a lot easier in 1936 when the BBWAA ( Baseball Writers Association of America ) first got together to vote in the first class of hall of famers. Those first 5 inductees were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. The term “no brainers” comes to mind so you would think that the first class of inductees and the voting that elevated these fine players to HOF status would be without controversy. I looked at the voting for that first class and managed to have a raised eyebrow at what I saw. Cy Young failed to get in by only garnering 49% of the vote? Young had 511 wins pitching over a 21 year career, a record that will never ever be broken. What does a guy have to do to get a little respect? Cy Young was later inducted of course and the award given out each year for the best pitcher in each the National and the American League was named after good old Cy after the 1955 season. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received two votes on that first year ballot even though he had already been banned for life from the game with no eligibility for reinstatement or election to the Hall of Fame. This was as a result of Jackson’s alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The scandal implicated 8 players on the Chicago White Sox that were believed to have been losing intentionally and being paid off by gamblers to do so. Joe Jackson was a .356 career hitter during the “dead ball” era and hit .375 with 1 homerun and 6 RBI’s in the 1919 World Series. There have been issues and controversies nearly every year since the voting the Hall of Fame started over 70 years ago.

The 2015 class of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio is a good one for the most part except for Smoltz. John Smoltz is a first ballot hall of famer? I don’t even think he is a hall of fame worthy player at all but to put him in on the first ballot? He had one very, very good season when he won the Cy Young Award in 1996 going 24-8 with the Atlanta Braves. Other than that Smoltz had a very good career not a hall of fame career. When they change the name of the building to the Hall of The Very Good then Smoltz should be a first ballot inductee. Mike Piazza is one of the top hitting catchers of all time and it looks like he won’t get in until his fourth year of eligibility next year. I will get back to the Piazza issue in a moment. Biggio has been labeled a “compiler” by his detractors but I have an answer for that as well. Let’s not diminish a player’s career that included durability, versatility, longevity and productivity over 20+ years because he did not hit 30 homers a year. What Biggio did is very hard to do make no mistake about it. Only 27 other men that ever played the game have reached 3000 hits. I for one will not diminish any of those players careers.  What Biggio did is hard to do, it is unique and it is Cooperstown worthy, case closed.

The biggest problem facing the voters the BBWAA is how to handle the steroid era and the players that put up video game type stats during it. It is a conundrum of major proportions but I know what I would do if I had a vote. Players that have steroids attached to their names should be separated into 2 categories.

Category 1 – The users and abusers

These are the guys that have either failed a drug test, admitted using or have such overwhelming evidence against them that it can’t be ignored. The most notable ones are Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will be eligible in the future and are in the category as well. These players changed the game and its statistical records so much that they have altered the game in a way that can only be fixed by vacating the stats which will never happen. They made the millions and took the health risks and now have to live with the results. No Hall of Fame for these players, ever.

 

Category 2 – The locker room whispers

The players that come to mind are Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield and Jeff Kent. These are the guys that players, fans and writers whispered in corners of the room about but no hard evidence ever came forward. There is a 5 year waiting period after a player retires before he is eligible for Hall of Fame. If the evidence did not present itself during a players long career plus the 5 years after then I have to measure the player based on his performance on the field and steroids does not enter into my thought process.

 

In addition to deciding what players should or should not be on the ballot there are big problems with the the Hall of Fame voting process. It is riddled with issues that need to change. Here are the main ones that I would like to see changes in:

  1. Members of the BBWAA select players that are eligible to be on the ballot from a list of all players that have been retired for 5 years. This is done via a “special screening committee”.

I can’t explain how these writers could put Aaron Boone, Tom Gordon, Brian Giles, Tony Clark or Darin Erstad on the ballot with a straight face but they did. No disrespect intended as these players had nice baseball careers but in no way shape or form should they even be considered Hall of Famers. This process needs to be a little more transparent to the public so the fans know how these players are being justified to appear on the ballot.

  1. Members of the BBWAA that have been a member for 10 years and covering baseball then have a ballot that they can cast. They are permitted to vote for up to 10 players each year.

Some of these members have not been covering baseball for a very long time but once you become a voter it is basically a lifetime job. This makes little to no sense to me. If a writer is no longer actively writing about baseball I think his credentials should be reviewed each year to ensure that the guy voting is qualified to do so. Voting for the Hall of Fame is a privilege not a right. The 2015 voting results revealed that Troy Percival, Tom Gordon, Aaron Boone and Darin Erstad all had support. Each received 2 votes except for Erstad who only received 1. I don’t know if it was 7 different writers that cast these ballots but whoever it was he should no longer have the ability to vote in my mind.

  1. The board of directors at the Hall of Fame decide how players are elected. Currently and since 1936 they have relied on the BBWAA to vote on players.

It is not 1936 anymore so I think with all the media outlets in our lives today it makes more sense to open up the voting to others. Broadcasters and website writers come to mind. Although there has been some progress on allowing certain website writers gain eligibility to vote I do think more is needed. My real issue here is the broadcasters. Vin Scully has been broadcasting the Dodger games since the 1950’s. The man has met Babe Ruth for crying out loud. He has probably watched more games live and in person then any member of the BBWAA. Scully is a good example of a guy that I feel should have a vote. Others that come to mind here in New York where I live would be Michael Kaye or Howie Rose. Kaye is a Yankees broadcaster and Rose is a Mets broadcaster. I would trust that these gentlemen would take the vote serious and do the due diligence before casting a ballot. It is time for new voices to enter into the process.

  1. Players stay on the ballot for 15 years and must get at least 5% of the votes each year to remain on the ballot during the 15 years. After that time has passed the only way a player can get in is via the “veterans committee”.

This committee is all living Hall of Fame players and they vote every two years on players that are no longer on the ballot. This is how players such as Bill Mazeroski and Phil Rizzuto got inducted. They both had decent careers but in neither case are they Hall of Fame worthy. Rizzuto should be in as a broadcaster but not as a player. I think it is a dangerous thing when players start to vote on other players. The players and the voters get older and start to get more and more nostalgic about a player’s career which can start to cloud good judgment. I would eliminate this committee. 10 years should be the max amount of time that a player should be on the ballot.

These are just a few of the changes that I would make. The board of directors of the Hall of Fame have to decide what kind of hall of fame they want as well as who should be voting on the inductees. I have visited the baseball Hall of Fame numerous times over the years and it is a great place to recall some of the great players and moments in the history of the game. It is just time to review the entire process to ensure that only the best and most deserving players are being honored.

 

WAR – What is it good for?

By Mike Moosbrugger

Chicago Cubs Introduce Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward after signing an 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Cubs. Photo by Yahoo Sports.

The mysterious stat known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR as it is more commonly referred to. You hear about it more and more every day in baseball circles as another way of determining a player’s value or impact to the teams win total. MLB sabermetric supporters, writers and analyst are using this stat to judge players more so it seems then using the traditional statistics that have been around since the first pitch was thrown in the 1800’s.  I have been trying to understand the relevancy of this “new” statistic for quite some time now and I still have a hard time judging a player using this method. First let’s all get on the same page with a short and not so simple definition of what WAR is.

WAR – “A single number that represents the number of wins a player added to a team above what a replacement player would add.” I will use Jayson Heyward as my example since he was my inspiration for writing this article. Heyward had a WAR of 6.5 in 2015. He was 10th in MLB and Bryce Harper was 1st with a 9.9 WAR. Keep in mind that Kevin Kiermaier had a 7.3 WAR  ( good for 7th in the majors ) in 2015 and he hit .260 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. The caveat here is that the replacement player would be a minor leaguer not a free agent that hit 40 homers or won 20 games last year. It is a player that would replace the player “at minimal cost or effort.”  A more detailed explanation of WAR can be found by going to the Baseball-Reference.com website www.baseballreference.com/about/war_explained.shtml

The calculation of WAR is where the fuzzy math starts to kick in for me. I am a firm believer in a player having more value than what his traditional stats are. Some players provide significant contributions in many areas where we, the fans, just can’t go on line and look at a stat for it.  The best that I can figure out about WAR is that the stat revolves around runs produced on offense by a position player and runs prevented on defense for the same player combined. More emphasis is placed on defensive play at key defensive positions such as catcher vs. first basemen. In the case of a pitcher it would be more about runs prevented obviously. Sounds great, the problem is that the calculation methods look more like rocket science to me. You or I would not be able to take out our IPhone and use the calculator to figure out a player’s WAR while sitting at the ballpark on a Sunday afternoon. We can figure out a players batting average pretty quickly and sometimes without a calculator. If you want some mind numbing formulas to look at then here is the link to the Wikipedia page where they “clearly” show you how some of the calculations are arrived at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_Above_Replacement

How does all this relate to Jayson Heyward? Heyward recently signed an astounding 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. While I was watching the analyst on MLB Network break down the contract one of them indicated that Heyward’s WAR stat may have played a role in the Cubs being so high on him. Let me just say I have no issue with Jayson Heyward’s career or play thus far in baseball. He is a nice player but his stats are not exactly eye popping. He has played 6 seasons in the majors and has averaged .268 with 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. He has never driven in over 90 runs in a season. He has only hit over 20 homers in a season one time. He does not score a lot of runs and has only exceeded 90 runs scored once. He does have a .350 career on base percentage and steals around 20 bases a year while playing good defense. His WAR average is 5.18 over the 6 seasons which puts him in the “All-Star” category for the WAR statistic. The WAR status categories are as follows: 8+ is “MVP”, 5+ is “All-Star” and 2+ is “Starter” and 0-2 is “Sub”. Freddie Freeman came up in Atlanta about 1 year behind Heyward and both players will turn 26 in 2016. Freeman averages .285 with 21 HR’s and 85 RBI’s per season with an On Base % of .366 while playing a good first base. He signed an 8 yr. / $135 million contract prior to the 2014 season. His WAR average per season is 3.14. Hmmm, that is only “Starter” status. Could this be the difference in the $50 million gap between the two players? I tell you what I think. I think I would rather have signed the Freddie Freeman deal. He is a better contributor in the key categories and it is far less risk and a lot less money. Keep your wins above replacement I will take the additional HR’s and RBI’s at a big discount thank you so much.

Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent and has yet to sign with a club. The Cuban defector is 29 and has played 4 seasons in the majors. His average seasons look like this: .271 with 26 HR’s and 92 RBI’s. He has driven in 100 runs two times and is widely considered a major force in any lineup. He single handedly changed the Mets offense this past summer. He has an incredible arm in the outfield as well so he contributes on defense also. However, his WAR is only 3.95 which is “Starter” status and not the “All-Star” status that Heyward has. It looks like Cespedes will sign a deal for much less than Heyward did age notwithstanding. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. Which player do you think would have more of an impact in your lineup between Heyward and Cespedes? Which player has the ability to carry a team for a few weeks? Which player changes the way the others are pitched to around him? For me this is a no brainer. I will take the big bat of Cespedes and the traditional stats he produces over the Wins Above Replacement that Heyward produces every time. So what is WAR good for? Absolutely nothing in my mind.

Mike Moosbrugger

 

Cubs Are In It to Win It–Omar V Gobby

Well, it happened.  The Chicago Cubs, perennial “lovable losers”, have played the cards dealt them as they signed erstwhile St. Louis Cardinals’ right fielder Jason Heyward to an 8 year/$184 million contract.  At an average annual rate of $23million, Heyward inked a deal which most insiders agreed was fair market value.  Brandt Dolce hit it pretty much right on the head in his piece from October.  In fact, using the same Carl Crawford comparison (quite valid, if you look at all the numbers), Fangraphs seems to think the Cubs may have even UNDERPAID, slightly, for Hayward’s services.  What is going on at Clark and Addison Streets in Chicago?

I’ll tell you what is going on.  There is a new attitude surrounding the Cubs.  Gone is talk of goatsGoat,

and BartmanBartman2

whoopsBartman,

and black catsMetscat.

In their place is a real feeling of “we can do it!”

Think, for a moment, of off-seasons past.  The Cubs, despite being a large market team, were never really in the market for the top names in Free Agency.  Sure, there was the Andre Dawson “blank check” of 1987, but that was also in the days of collusion.  The guys who were in their primes just didn’t want to come to Wrigley.  And then the ones who DID, tended to be colossal busts.   More often, the young stars, when eligible for free agency, said goodbye to the Cubs and left for greener pastures.  To this day, many Cubs fans will not forgive then-General Manager Larry Himes for letting Maddux go to Atlanta.  That was then…

…this is now.  After being famously rebuffed by Anibal Sanchez before the 2013 season, Theo Epstein orchestrated his first major free agent signing when he brought on Edwin Jackson, a journeyman pitcher who had bounced from team to team (7 in first 10 seasons) before then.  That $52 million contract seemed to be more of the same old same old for the Cubs, as many rightfully questioned giving that much money to a guy who was 70-71 in his career to that point.  The Cubs were laughed at as masters of mismanagement yet again. But then something different happened.  Theo Epstein reversed course.  He decided that it was worth suffering a little bit today in order to thrive tomorrow.  The first shoe dropped in July 2013 when pitcher Scott Feldman (7-6, 3.46 ERA on a last place team) was traded to the upstart Baltimore Orioles (along with backup catcher Steve Clevenger) in exchange for Pedro Strop and some dude named Jake.  The Orioles missed the playoffs, and the Cubs’ transition was underway.

Later that month, Matt Garza was shipped off to the Texas Rangers for Mike Olt, CJ Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez.  While none of these three has yet to have major MLB success, Ramirez is part of the Cubs’ bullpen, and Edwards and Villanueva are still considered prime prospects.  The Cubs were still a last place team, but they were putting the pieces together.

Then came 2014.  Sure, this was still a sub-.500 team.  Manager Rick Renter did the best he could to squeeze every bit of talent from this very much overmatched squad.  A very young team actually looked competitive while losing, if that is possible, on their way to a 73-89 finish.  Still last place, but the psychological boost of avoiding 90 losses was important.  That, and pulling off one of the biggest heists in recent baseball history on  July 5 when they traded pitchers Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for a package of prospects, including 2015 rookie Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.  This move proved to be pure genius when Hammel rejoined the club prior to the 2015 campaign as a free agent.

Players felt good now to be part of the Chicago Cubs organization.  Instead of settling for everyone else’s discards, the team was now in the hunt to land the best talent.  And that is exactly what happened when, in the span of a week in December, they acquired catcher Miguel Montero, Hammel, and pitcher Jon Lester.  No more finishing second, the Cubs were out to win.  And win they did, to a 97-65 record and an appearance in the NLCS.

This all leads us to this past week, wherein all the Cubs accomplished was to sign a new second baseman,  a former World Series hero, and the guy who has led MLB in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) ever since he joined the league in 2010 and who has an unreal UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) during that same time.  The critics are all over Heyward, saying he is not Mike Trout at the plate.  No, he isn’t.  And aside from Trout, no one else is, either.  What Heyward is is a peerless defender who can get on base at a good clip while providing enough offensive punch to have opposing pitchers not take him for granted.  More importantly, he is a guy who reportedly rejected more money (upwards of $200million, reported) from the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals for the chance to win.

Reports also have Zobrist and Lackey as having rejected potentially more lucrative deals in order to come to Chicago.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is no longer your father’s Chicago Cubs team.  This is no longer a final destination for some guys on their way to the MLB Rest Home.  This is no longer the launching pad of great players achieving greater success in a different city with a different team.  These are the Chicago Cubs.  Players are jumping through hoops in an effort to play for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are close enough to the World Series  now  that any free agent they pursue would be begging to come to the team. And these three proved just that, as all accepted what was deemed to be below market value.

All this wheeling and dealing has one goal in mind

Cubring