Quintana to Start for Cubs; Go for Sweep

jose quintana

by Richard Kagan

The trade for Jose Quintana, formerly of the cross-town rival the Chicago White Sox, is on for real today, when he makes his first start as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Quintana will face off vs. the Baltimore Orioles.

The Cubs have won the first two games of the series and will be going for a series sweep. The Cubs offense has shown signs of coming out of hibernation, with eight homers in two games, and a 16 hit attack last night.  Justin Heyward drove in three runs with a bases loaded triple that helped the Cubs take control of the game. Anthony Rizzo hit his 21st HR of the season in the eighth inning. Albert Almora, Jr. hit his second straight homer.

This is a good sign. The Cubs have had a team .239 batting average in the first half of the season. And, if they want to contend for the division, they will need to hit better.  The talent is there.  It appears that Quintana has been a shot in the arm for the team. The club knows he is a good pitcher–heck he made the All-Star game last season.  Quintana is a strong starter who can only help the rotation on the North Side.

Professional baseball at the the Major League level is decided by inches,  an errant throw, or a poorly executed pitch.  Getting good wood on the bat is what the players strive for and the Cubs have been doing that the last few games. Of course, Baltimore doesn’t have the greatest pitching staff. At least the Cubs are taking advantage so far.

Everyone is jumping the gun a little bit. Ok, the Cubs have two games. They are back to .500 for what seems like the 100th time, actually, it is the 21st time, this season. Can they win three in a row?  And, continue the strong road trip in Atlanta?  If this team can win 5 of 6 games on the road, that is a good sign that things might be turning around for the Cubbies. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First, Quintana has to pitch a good game, go deep in the game, and give a chance for Cub batters to continue to connect.

Things might be changing for the Northsiders, but it is a bit too soon to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Tebow Update – He’s Not Michael Jordan (Thank Goodness)

By Paul DiSclafani

I know, I know.  It’s ridiculous to be even talking about this as the Mets prepare for the second half of the season, but facts is facts.

Tim Tebow has hit in 11 straight games since his promotion to Single “A” St. Lucie.  He just hit his first ever walk-off home run on Thursday after hearing many of major leaguers throw him compliments at the All-Star game on Tuesday.

This is not one of those “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once and a while” stories anymore.  Unlike basketball great Michael Jordan, who tried baseball for a year and gave up after hitting just .202 with 114K in 436 AB’s, Tebow is – dare I say it? – actually getting better.

In a small sample of 16 games in St. Lucie, Tebow is hitting .327 with 2 2B, 3 HR and 10 RBI.  His OBP of .421 is not bad at all.  But the most surprising statistic is he has just 9K in 49 AB’s.

Understand that the Mets are not going to be promoting Tebow in September this year.  In order to be promoted to the Majors after the rosters expand, the player must be on the 40-man roster.  Tebow is currently NOT on the Mets 40-man roster and knowing how Sandy Alderson operates, he is not removing anyone anytime soon to accommodate Tebow.  We can’t even get him to promote Amed Rosario who IS on the 40-man roster.

But what happens if Tebow continues to improve in Class “A”?  What happens if he gets another promotion before the season is over to “AA”?

He’s no spring chicken, you know.  The Mets need to consider accelerating his progress through the different levels of their organization if they feel he has a chance to make it to The Show before he retires.

Tebow was given a chance many minor leaguers don’t get when he appeared in a few games with the Big Club during Spring training.  Now he has continued to reward the Mets organization as a model player who is beloved by teammates and fans alike, while showing actual improvement on the field.

 

Crosstown Big-Deal: Pitcher Jose Quintana Now a Cub

jose quintana

By Richard Kagan

Trades like this normally don’t happen in Chicago. The Cubs and the Chicago White Sox are city rivals and one doesn’t go out its way to “help” the other team.  However, in this case, both teams got what it wanted.

The Chicago Cubs got a proven left-handed starting pitcher for at least 3 + seasons in Jose Quintana, who for a while,  was the best starter who never got run support. Finally, last season he made the All-Star team.  He is a steady, reliable pitcher with an unflappable disposition. He has averaged 32 starts and pitched over 200 innings in the last four seasons.  His career record is 50-54 but if the Sox had scored more runs for him, it would be better.

This season he got off to a slow start and was hit around the park in the early spring. But he has settled down and his ERA is now a 4.49 and dropping.  He’s got some very good starts in him and figures to get approximately 14 starts this season. He will stabilize a pitching staff that was floundering. Add Quintana and take off Montgomery to the starters.  You have Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks, and Quintana. That is a good front-line staff.  Montgomery can be your spot starter.

To get Quintana, the Cubs gave up some very good minor league prospects in OF Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, a pitcher who register 100 mph on the stun-gun.  Cease threw a no-hitter earlier this season in the minors.  Those two players may be several years away from the majors. The Cubs also have up two lower level prospects in Class A.

What this means for the Cubs:

They became relevant again. They now trail the Brewers by 5.5 games in the NL Central and this gives them an honest chance to try to close the gap. Cubs President Theo Epstein tried just about every trick in the book this season to tweak his team.   He didn’t use the trade gambit until now.  Quintana is a solid starting pitcher who will fill the gap when Jon Lester retires.

What this means for the White Sox:

The White Sox had a barren farm system last season. They traded ace Chris Sale and CF Adam Eaton and now highly sought Jose Quintana. They got some excellent young talent in their farm system who will change the complexion of the Sox for years to come.

 

 

 

Cubs Trail Bucs 13-2, Lester Pitches 2/3rd of Inning

Cubs logo

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs are getting thrashed at Wrigley Field, trailing 13-2 as the game winds down.

So much for getting a little momentum going into the All-Star break. Jon Lester lasted 2/3rds of the first inning, giving up ten runs on 6 hits. The big blast came when Francisco Cervelli hit a grand-slam into left field to make the score 9-0. Andrew McCutchen then followed with his own homer to make 10-0 and Lester was gone.

It was the shortest outing in Lester’s career which runs 335 starts. On this day, he didn’t have any of his pitches working.  The other day, when Milwaukee won big over the Cubs, manager Joe Maddon said that the Cubs were playing catch-up early and that is hard to come back from a large deficit.  The Cubs lost that game. And, they will likely lose this one too.  Chicago goes 43-45 heading into the All-Star break. And, if there was ever a team to use “time off”–it’s the Cubs. They’ve been in hibernation since the season started it seems, and there are no apparent signs that they are coming out.  Bears come out of hibernation because they are hungry and need to hunt for prey.  This teams does not look hungry to play the game. They appear to be going through the motions.  Cubs fans at Wrigley await that one hit, that one good catch, that one play –which they hope will spur their team on. Yet, that hasn’t happened.

The Cubs have been hovering around .500 most of the season. Now, after this loss, they will be two games under .500. Maddon thinks the Cubs can have a much better second half of the season or at least he hopes so. The question is what evidence leads one to think they can have a better second half of the year?

The real question is can this team manage to win three games in a row. If it loses one, can it rebound and win another 3?  That happened with regularity last year.  I hear a comment by a TV analyst who implied that the Cubs really missed David Ross as a team leader.  I believe he is still on the payroll–why doesn’t he spend more time with the team as an advisor?   Cubs President Theo Epstein remarked that the Cubs need more of a change internally, then to go outside and rent a player. There is a lot of talent on the Cubs. That is why their season thus far has been so perplexing.

Ron Darling, doing the color commentary on national cable TV said Lester had pitched so well throughout his career and then he had the start today. He said, “In baseball, you just never know.”

It’s the Cubs, you just never know.

 

 

These Cubs Give You That Queasy Feeling

Cubs logo

by Richard Kagan

With yesterdays’s 5-3 loss to the Reds, the Cubs are now 40-41, halfway through the season.  This current crop is mired in mediocrity. Much to the consternation of it’s growing and loyal fan base.  The team never got off the ground in April or May and playing in June has been a win one, lose two type of scenario.  The Cubs have been at .500 16 times this season, and can’t win more than one of two games above that mark.

The pitching, hitting, and defense has been under performing. True, the Cubs have been banged up.  Players, such as Leis Bryant, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and Kyle Hendricks have been injured. The Cubs will get those players back soon, perhaps during the Cubs next homestand.

Chicago fell to 0-2 vs. the Cincinnati Reds this weekend. Chicago has owned the Reds last season and earlier this season. If the Reds win on Sunday, this will be the first time the Cub have been swept in Cincinnati in 21 years.

Joe Maddon, manager of the Cubs, thinks the team will turn things around.  He has said it in a variety of ways.  He said he was surprised the Cubs haven’t played better but he thinks the team will play better soon He also mentioned that the Cubs are in a weak division and if they did play better, they had a chance to move into first place. The Cubs are not far from Milwaukee.  But right now, that doesn’t matter. They can’t seem to put the wins together to move closer.

It was a bit ironic that pitcher Scott Feldman shut down the Cubs 5-0.  He allowed only three hits.  He was traded for Jake Arrieta who went on to have one of the greatest seasons in Major League baseball history in 2015.  But Feldman pitched like Arrieta of old, and the Cubs were blanked.  It’s been that kind of season for Chicago.

Who knows what may happen?  It seems like Maddon had the midas touch last season. Every move he made worked. Until he took out Kyle Hendricks early in game 7. Everything he said rang true.  The Cubs know the fans are concerned. The Chicago press is covering this crazy season. The players are aware that they are not playing well.

Maybe they can. Maybe they can’t. But as the season progresses, it would be a good thing if they started to win again. One game at a time.

Internal Strife: Cubs Release Montero Today

wrigleyscoreboard2

It should be a picture perfect day just like this photo. But in Cubs land, there are cloudy skies.

Today, the Chicago Cubs designated for assignment, essentially releasing, catcher Miguel Montero. This came on the heels of Montero’s critical comments to the press about Jake Arrieta being responsible for the track meet, the Nationals held last night, stealing 7 bases.  Montero called Arrieta “slow” to the plate, implying that he, Montero, was handcuffed in trying to throw out the runners.

Once this reached the media, Anthony Rizzo chimed in and said, Montero’s comments were “selfish.” The Cubs acted almost immediately, and bought out the contract of the 33 year old veteran catcher who was batting .286 and was 0-31 in throwing out attempted base stealers. In comparison, catcher Willson Contreras, has a 37% better attempts in attempted steals.

Rizzo said on Twitter, ‘We win as 25, we lose as 25.”  Right now the club is one game above .500 and is in the midst of a season long haze. The Cubs haven’t been playing sound or passionate baseball thus far, and fans are more than apprehensive.

The Cubs are bringing up rookie Victor Caratini, from AAA, Iowa to replace Montero.  When these kinds of things happen in a clubhouse it is a sign that there is brewing frustration and a degree of discontent.  In a winning clubhouse, this outburst doesn’t get made public. It is handled inside the clubhouse.  Manager Joe Maddon runs a pretty loose ship, and he lets things “roll”, but it appears it is time for some kind of discussions to set parameters and to get everyone on the same page, in case they aren’t.

The front office acted quickly and Montero is gone. He had some big hits last post-season including a grand-slam vs. the LA Dodgers at Wrigley that almost lifted the roof off.  His base hit in game 7 in the top of the 10th inning to drive home a run was huge.  It’s not like he didn’t make contributions, but he also had loose lips. He was critical of Maddon on the radio the day of the parade.  You can’t throw your starting pitcher and one of the keys to the club’s recent success under the bus.

Perhaps this is what the team needed. A subtle kick in the pants to wake up the squad.  Lord knows, they need it now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cubs Fall to Marlins on the Road, 4-2, onto DC.

Montgomery pic

The Chicago Cubs lost to the Miami Marlins in Miami, 4-2, in a game that got away. The Cubs fell behind early when Miami scored three unearned runs in the bottom of the first inning. Chicago crept back and trailed 3-2, but didn’t tie up the game. Instead Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami slugger hit his 20th home run to make a 4-2 game.

The Cubs stranded 11 runners in the game. They scored their runs on sacrifice flies. Edinson Volquez pitched five innings and wasn’t a world beater, but it was enough to give the Marlins a shot. He allowed five hits, five walks and in five innings of work.

Montgomery pitched six innings, allowed three unearned runs, and his ERA dipped to 2.03.  He is not over powering.  He gets his outs.  If he locates his fastball better, he might be more effective.

Chicago drops to 38-37 and trails Milwaukee by just 1.5 games. The team is having a hard time just gathering a modest winning streak, which could catapult them into the lead. However, this team is not firing on all cylinders —yet. One has to hope they will.

The Cubs have been getting quality starts lately. Lester and Lackey both pitched well in recent starts. Montgomery is pitching well enough to win.  The team is not putting up consistent offense.  All this is happening as Kyle Hendricks is on the DL list due to an injured finger. He is weeks away from starting again, probably not until the All-Star break.

Anthony Rizzo was hot as a pistol leading off until he cooled off. Kris Bryant is in a slump. Today he struck out on a 3-2 pitch with two runners on base to end a threat.

Last year the Cubs cashed in with runners in scoring position. Hitting runners over, and then driving them in. This has not happened game in, game out this season. Chicago is one of the lowest teams in the league in driving runners home in scoring position.

When the Cubs hit, they hit well. Then there is a drop-off. We are seeing this now. It appears that players are trying. This is a new experience for all of the players: Coming off a World Series crown.  They are finding out it’s not that easy to defend the title.