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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.

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Cubs Sign Yu Darvish to Deal; Bolsters Staff

wrigley field

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs made a big splash in the free-agent market today, signing starting pitcher Yu Darvish to a 6 yr – $126million deal.  The deal could reach $150M with incentives. Darvish 31, was one of the coveted pitchers on the market and the Cubs now have significantly improved their starting rotation.

Darvish did get hit hard in his 2017 World Series appearences. Apparently, he may have been tipping his pitches. But he virtually shut down the Cubs in the NLCS vs. the Dodgers, giving up a solo home run in 6.1 innings.  Sometimes, if you can’t beat ’em, sign him up.

The Cubs already signed Chris Ginemez, a catcher who was Darvish personal catcher with the Texas Rangers.  Darvish is a four-time all-star who was highly coveted last season. The Dodgers acquired him as it made a strong run to the World Series.  Darvish was 10-12 last season with the Rangers and Dodgers.  His ERA was 3.86. He struck out 209 hitters in 186.2 innings.

Darvish finished 2nd in Cy Young balloting in the American League in 2013. Then he underwent Tommy John surgery and did not pitch in 2014 and part of 2015.

The addition of Darvish helps make the Cubs with a formidable starting rotation, that includes Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and new addition, Tyler Chatwood.

Darvish has been pitching in high-pressure situations prior to and after his arm injury. The Cubs hope has has more gas in the tank.

Ghosts of Seasons Past

It has already been some time. For most that means the luster may have left a little, the excitement has waned. Maybe a few have even forgotten those moments of despair and struggle throughout October that were eventually overcome. (That is unless you obsessively watch the video of every run the Astros scored in Game 5 of the World Series. That pivotal, roller coaster ride of the century.) It was a great time to be an Astros fan.

Check out all the Astros’ runs from Game 5 of the World Series

htown strong la times

(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

A lot has been said too about Houston Strong, about the summer that saw our city soaked to the bones and our World Series bound Astros forced from home. About how Harvey brought a city together, brought a team together to get past their struggles, to prevail.  Houston has had their fair share of heartache and, Harvey aside, our sports teams have always struggled.  Until now the only glorious rise to the top was limited to the spring times of ’94 and ’95 when Hakeem the Dream Olajuwon lifted the whole of Houston and all of his Rockets teammates upon his back and carried them to the promised land. (Some even believe that because Jordan wasn’t in the league that the ’94-’95 Rockets championships are tainted.) It was a city that was in a quasi sports purgatory.  One that had celebrated great victories, great teams and even greater players, but by the grace of the sports gods always came up short.  There is a reason that when H-town natives and fans hear the name Frank Reich they shudder and possibly convulse.

Something has always happened. In ’80 JR had a stroke, in ’86 the Mets clipped Hatcher’s heroics. Buddy Ryan punched Kevin Gilbride and the House of Pain became painful for Oiler fans. The Twin Towers came up short vs Bird.  Renfro caught that ball but the refs stole that game for the Steel Curtain. The Chicago White Sox (had) swept the Astros in their only World Series appearance. Yao goes down vs LA. They are still looking for the ball Pujols hit off of Lidge.  Joe Montana twice gunned Houston down, once with Notre Dame, once with Kansas City. Valvano makes a great story but Phi Slamma Jamma should have never lost that game. Even the Texans, in their most successful season to date, wore letterman jackets to a showdown in New England only to further show Houston sports needed more schooling. Always coming up short.  Good enough to say we were close, not great enough to get past, Bad News Bears status, “Just wait until next year…”

10 most disappointing losses in Houston Sports History

 

That is until now.

reddick trophy

(K. Djansezian / Getty Images)

When the final out was cast. When the ball was trapped by Altuve and thrown on the infield side of first base. When Yuli gripped that ball in the back of glove. When the Astros beat the Dodgers in the seventh game of the World Series. At that moment there was a weight lifted. Downtown Houston went from below sea level to 10 feet above. At that moment the demons of many Houston failures were let loose. They were gone. Tears flowed, minds exploded, hell froze over (Or at least got flooded from Harvey.) They had won it for Houston. And that also meant they won it for a lot more.

They won it for Mike Scott. For Jose Cruz and Nolan Ryan. For Glenn Davis, Daryl Kile and Craig Biggio. For Shane Reynolds and Jose’ Lima…..Ken Caminiti, Enos Cabell, Richard Hidalgo, Craig Reynolds, Joe Neikro, JR Richard, Sean Berry, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Hampton, Jim Deshaies, Julio Lugo, Gene Elston, Daryl Ward, Octavio Dotel, even Randy Johnson. It was for Larry Dierker, Ricky Gutiérrez, Phil Garner, Terry Puhl, Luis Gonzales, Mark Portugal, Lance Berkman, Art Howe, Roy Oswalt, Cesar Cedeno, Mike Lamb, Billy Wagner, Tim Bogar, Charlie Kerfeld, Scott Elarton, Kirk Saarloos, Buddy Bell, Casey Candeale, Matt Galante, and Brad Lidge. It was for Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn, Bud Norris, Jed Lowrie, Moises Alou, Dickie Thon, Brad Ausmus, Don Wilson, Hunter Pence, Miguel Tejada, Bill Spires, Luke Scott, Joaquín Andújar, Chad Qualls, Jason Lane, Bob Knepper and Bob Watson. For Alan Ashby, Eric Bruntlet, Tony Eusibio, Rafael Ramirez, Bill Doran, Pete Incaviglia Carlos Lee, Jeff Kent, Kevin Bass, Bob Aspromonte, Larry Anderson, Danny Darwin, Steve Finley and Derek freaking Bell. For Adam Everett, Wandy Rodriguez, Doug Henry, Curt Schilling, Morgan Ensberg, Carl Everett, Denny Walling, Wade Miller, Geoff Blum, Milo Hamilton, Bobby Abreu, Brandon Backe, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Rusty Staub, Roy Hofeinz, Don Wilson, Bill Virdon, Tal Smith, Doug Rader, Hal Lanier, Joe Sambito, Dave Smith, and Billy Freaking Hatcher. For Pete Harnisch, Chris Burke, Aubrey Huff, Willy Taveras, and Michael Bourn.

It was for Dan Pastorini. For Bum Phillips, For Earl Campbell and Carl Mauck. For Mike Renfro, Bruce Matthews, Haywood Jeffries, Ken Stabler and Warren Moon. For Lorenzo White, Greg Bingham, Dave Casper and Coach Glanville. For White Shoes Johnson, Elvin Bethea, Kenny Borrough and Vernon Perry. For Cris Dishman, Earnest Givens and Lamar Lathon. For Drew Hill, Ray Childress and Jack Pardee. Alonso Highsmith, Mike Rozier, Alan Pinket, Sean Jones and Ray Childress. For Mike Munchak and Eugene Seale. Mike Barber, Cody Carlson and Robert Brazile. Giff Nielsen, Will Fuller and Al Smith.

It was for every member of the Houston Cougars Phi Slamma Jamma.

It was even for Tracy Mcgrady, James Harden and Yao Ming.  For Carl Herrera and Ralph Sampson, For the Dream and Drexler…….

It was for the current Astros roster. The one that sweated three years of 100+ losses. That weathered a switch to the AL, Hurricane Harvey, and won in spite of Bud Selig. It was for a city that has taken so much disappointment in stride. It was for people tearing out the walls in their houses while listening to the game. It was for the world, but most of all it was for us, the Houston fans. For all the heartbreak.  The champions.  Thank you Houston Astros.  Thank you!

scott no hit

  (Howard Castleberry / Houston Chronicle, Houston Astros)

 

-Trey Looney

@3timeslooney

 

 

 

Who Are the Cubs Going After?

Cubs logo

By Richard Kagan

It’s almost in the single digits here on the East coast, and back in Chicago, you don’t even want to look at the wind chill temps.  So, it’s a perfect time to vent on the Hot Stove goings on with the Cubbies.

Players are being tossed around like cards on a poker table. El Mago going to San Diego? No way!  Arrieta back to the Cubs? I’ll take it already. The Cubs are flirting with Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb to sign as front-line starters. The winter days are short and already the countdown to spring training has begun.  The Cubs have shored up the bullpen but didn’t sign Wade Davis.  He would have been great.

Now, are the Cubs content with Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, who signed recently?

The Cubs front office says the Morrow will be the closer although he rarely closed during last year with the Dodgers. He was great in the late innings, especially against the Cubs. If you can’t beat ’em, sign him up. That is what the Cubs did.

Now the name Alex Cobb of Tampa Bay floats about.  He had arm surgery and last year was his first full season after his recovery. He pitched pretty well, going 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA.  He struck out 128 in 179.1 innings pitched. Not exactly blowing them away.  He knows the new Cubs pitching coach and of course, Joe Maddon. He spoke in an interview and sounded like the door was open on his end. Are the Cubs interested in making a deal?  No one in Chicago really knows. The Cubs’ Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer flew to Dallas to speak to Darvish a few weeks ago. I am sure numbers were tossed around and discussed back in Chicago. Darvish had a good regular season and was a coveted signing for the Dodgers.  He just wilted in the World Series.

Speculation is that the Cubs might be interested in re-signing Jake Arrieta at $110 M for four years. Does Jake want the money or is he, or his agent Scott Boras, want a longer deal?  These questions are still up in the air.  Time is coming to make a decision.  Money is to be spent.

I just hope the Cubs make the right deal.

 

 

 

Cubs Bolster Bull Pen With Cishek Signing

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By Richard Kagan

Winter is about to set in. But soon, the skies around Wrigley Field will look like the picture noted above.  And, in 2018, the Cubs will have a new look BP. Chicago just added another pitcher to the mix, signing reliever Steve Cishek to a deal.

Cishek, 31, has a right-handed funky delivery, with a low-arm slot, and the ball is difficult to pick up for batters. This past year, he pitched both in Seattle and Tampa Bay, where he met Jim Hickey, the current pitching coach of the Cubs. It seems like everyone is meeting Jim Hickey these days. Drew Smyly knew him and Hickey urged the Cubs pick him up, this after Smyly has been shut down for for months prior to Tommy John surgery last June.

When he actually pitches for the Cubs is anyone’s guess. But now the Cubs have Cishek to plug in. Cishek had 2.01 ERA in 2017 with the Mariners and Rays. It was the lowest in his career. He is a durable pitcher for the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings.

Cubs fans may remember him pitching in a wild game for Seattle, a few years back when he wild-pitched the tying run of a game. Then Jon Lester hit a beautifully placed bunt that scored Jason Heyward from third base to win the game. The Cubs came back from a 6-0 deficit to win 7-6 against the Mariners. That game to me, was one of the highlights of the 2016 regular season.

Here comes Cishek, hopefully chastened, ready to pitch for the Northsiders.

Where is Wade Davis in all this? The Cubs are bolstering their bullpen in case they don’t sign Davis.  Brandon Morrow would be slated to be the new closer, if the Cubs don’t ink Davis to a new contract. Personally, I’d like to see Davis back in the Cubs fold.  He is a terrific pitcher and I don’t think the Cubs can let him get away.  Maybe he is too expensive?  Maybe the Cubs want to concentrate on finding a fifth starter and leave the Bull pen as it is.  It has a new look. But it would look better with Wade Davis.

Cubs Close to Signing Brandon Morrow, Ex Dodger Reliever

Cubs logo

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs are reportedly near finalizing a deal with ex Dodger reliever Brandon Morrow, who starred in the Dodger’s post-season.

Morrow faced the Cubs in the 2017 NCLS and was virtually unhittable. He allowed one hit, and  7 strike-outs in 4 2/3 innings.  He mowed down Cubs hitting with a sizzling 97 mph fastball.

During the regular season, Morrow, 33, had an ERA of 2.06 and did not allow a home-run. Morrow was used as the set-up man to Kenley Jannsen, the closer for Los Angeles.

It is not known how Morrow would be used, but he is a quality reliever. The deal is reportedly for two years at approximately $11 million a year. It is believed that Morrow has to take and pass a physical before this deal can go through.

The Cubs are in the process of re-making the Bull pen. Closer Wade Davis is still out there, and it is thought the Cubs and his agent will be in talks during the Winter Meetings, which start today in Florida.

Morrow appears to be an excellent pick-up for the Cubs.  Chicago hope he can continue to be a force late in the game, as he was for LA.

The Winter meetings signal the real start of the Hot Stove League, the time during the off-season, when clubs add key players to their roster.  Giancarlo Stanton just signed a deal with the NY Yankees. Stanton, the former Marlins’ slugger now joins a team top heavy with hitters with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.

Morrow can only help the Cubs’ Bull pen which was inconsistent during the season and in the playoffs.

 

Signing: It’s not Ohtani, it’s Tyler Chatwood, Pitcher

wrigley field

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs signed free-agent Tyler Chatwood, 28 to the starting rotation.

Chatwood, who has been in the majors for seven years, does not possess impressive stats, yet the Cubs see an upside to him as he nears his prime. Last season he led the National League with 15 losses. His ERA in Coors Field was 5.17 and away from home, it was 3.76.

The Cubs have a three year 38 million deal with Chatwood. Someone in the front office saw something they liked. Chatwood is a ground ball pitcher and the Cubs have a good defense. So, here hopes the combination mixes well.  There is some gamble to this deal. Perhaps the next one won’t be done with one eye opened.

The Cubs need bodies and good pitchers in the rotation. I am sure more moves will be made. Theo Epstein made his pitch to Ohtani the other day. The Japanese pitcher was talking to five west coast team and the Texas Rangers. Did the Cubs make the final cut? We will soon see. This international rookie can throw high heat and supposedly bat like Babe Ruth.  It would be quite a get to lure Ohtani to the Windy City.

The rotation currently has Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.  It is unlikely that Jake Arrieta would return.  He is looking for a mult-year deal that the Cubs don’t want to offer.

The Hot Stove League is heating up and Esptein and company are making their moves. This is their time to play “front office deal-making.” This is part of their job description.

Cubs fans hope it turns out great.