Tagged: Jake Arrieta

Tonight, the Banner Flies at Wrigley

By Richard Kagan

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

MLB To Crack Down On Postgame Celebrations?

By: Paul DiSclafani

collins NLCS Game 4

Is there anything better than watching your team celebrate in the clubhouse with champagne after clinching a playoff spot or winning a playoff series?  Haven’t you or your friends at one point sprayed each other with champagne just for the heck of it?  Just for the pure science of shaking that bottle and seeing how far you can get it to spray?

I can tell you, it definitely burns the eyes.  It is disgustingly sticky and it tastes just awful.  You think we fans spray expensive champagne?  I try to get as many bottles for my $10 as possible.

But did you know that Major League baseball has rules for postseason celebrations?  Amazingly, there is an actual policy that states teams must have non-alcoholic beverages available and champagne must be limited to two bottles per player and must be used specifically for spraying each other, and not for drinking. Beer is the only kind of alcohol allowed, and only one beer is allowed  – Budweiser.

I guess that answers the question why you never see them doing flaming shots of Yukon Jack.

In their last three celebrations, all on the road, apparently the Mets have not been in compliance with league policy.  Terry Collins and his players left the clubhouse during their celebrations to join the handful of fans that made the trek into the opposing ballparks.  They were drinking champagne and Budweiser beer and celebrating with the fans – by spraying them with champagne.  It was a priceless and joyous moment for everyone involved – except the Office of the Commissioner.

The Commissioner’s Office said it is pondering “appropriate steps” to combat the images of players drinking on the field and spraying fans with champagne following clinching games. The league has contacted the players involved to warn them that future incidents will result in discipline.

“Things have gone beyond where they’re supposed to,” said Pat Courtney, MLB’s Chief communications officer and Party Pooper. “You just have to turn on the TV and you can see it.”

arietta and son with champagne

Jake Arietta and son in the Cubs locker room after beating the Cardinals in the NLDS

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrietta was photographed holding his infant son, who was pouring champagne into Arietta’s open mouth.  Collins was captured on video spaying Mets fans in Cincinnati and Chicago.

“Our policy explicitly states that no alcohol is permitted outside of the clubhouse or at any time on the field of play, and that all celebrations involving the use of alcohol must take place within the clubhouse,” said the Queen of Doom.  “We have MLB security on-site to enforce our rules. The commissioner determines the appropriate steps if any individuals violate our rules.”

Is the league concerned with lawsuits from fans that got sprayed with champagne during a celebration that might sue them for dry cleaning bills?  Are they worried that their sponsors will be upset that their products are not being consumed responsibly?

John Lester and his son during the Cubs NLDS Clinching celebration

John Lester and his son during the Cubs NLDS Clinching celebration

The 2010 Texas Rangers celebrated with Ginger Ale in deference to teammate Josh Hamilton, an admitted alcoholic.  The Yankee champions of the late 90’s celebrated with non-alcoholic champagne when they had Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry on their rosters.  It was back in 2010 that now Commissioner, then MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred issued the edict about not bringing alcoholic drinks onto the field and at that time even banned beer in the clubhouse.  Guess Budweiser threw some cash the League’s way to get that one removed from the books.

Postgame celebrations have been a part of baseball since, well, forever.  Sharing the giddiness with the fans in the stands is harmless and priceless.  Ok, maybe infant children pouring champagne down your throat is a tad over the top, but come on.  It’s a celebration!  Didn’t your Dad ever give you a sip of beer for a special occasion?

Hasn’t anyone ever seen the ending to “The Bad News Bears”?

These Ain’t Your Father’s Cubs

By: Omar Gobby

nlds cubs-cards

The 2015 Cubs came out of the gates with a new fire in their eyes.  This was not a team sitting back and waiting for Theo Epstein to set them up for “The Future”.  This was a team looking for blood from the get go.  They have refused to back down from any fight.  Just ask Sean Rodriguez.

And they are plain good.

Now, they are headed to new heights as they prepare to face off against their mortal enemy, the St. Louis Cardinals, in the National League Divisional Series.  If it were ever possible for a 100 win team to be an underdog, this may be the time, as many pundits see the Cubs as simply being the stronger and better team right now.  This is a Cardinals team that limped through September/October with a 15-16 mark, including not even bothering to show up against the Braves in the closing weekend.  The Cardinals are vulnerable, and the Cubs are primed to be the ones to administer the killing blow.

St. Louis won the season series against the Cubs, 11-8, but the Cubs won 4 of the last 6 in September, taking 2 games each in Wrigley and St. Louis.  The Cubs proved they could beat the Cardinals.  More importantly, Ace Jake Arrieta pitched exactly 0 innings in those last 6 games.  There is no way Arrieta skips the Cardinals in this best of 5 NLDS.  With Jon Lester likely to throw both games 1 and 4, and Arrieta likely to go Monday in Game 3, the Cubs are in good shape to keep things rolling.

Without further adieu, let us look at the match ups.

Starting Pitching

While the Cubs’ rotation is really good at the top (Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta), there has been a lack of consistency after that.  Jason Hammel had a very good first half and has been pedestrian in the second.  Kyle Hendricks has ranged between adequate and good, and never overwhelming.  Trade deadline acquisition Dan Haren was rather unremarkable until shining in 3 of his late season starts (against St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee).  For the Cardinals, electric right hander Carlos Martinez’ season ended with a shoulder strain.  Add to that the Achilles injury suffered by ace Adam Wainwright (who has since returned in a relief role), and the Cardinals rotation looked to be a mess.  Yet, Manager Mike Matheny has seemed to keep this staff together despite all the adversity.  While the star power at the top of Chicago’s rotation is missing in St. Louis, there is an admirable top to bottom consistency.  There may not be a clear #1 right now, but there also is not a bad one in the bunch.  For overall consistency, the edge goes to the Cardinals.  Slight Edge: St. Louis

Bullpen

This is flashy vs functional.  The reliability of that 2001 Toyota vs the pizzazz of a brand new Lamborghini.  The Cardinals, led by closer Trevor Rosenthal, converted 62 of 77 saves (80.5%) and was generally quite effective.  Kevin Siegrist (7-1, 2.17, 6/10 with 90 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings) confounds hitters regularly.  Behind that, there is a stable of steady performers such as Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Villanueva, Seth Maness, and Steve Cishek.  Add to that Wainwright, and this is a relief corps which would have no problem providing quality innings when needed.

The Cubs’ pen was prone to some spectacular blow ups and equally spectacular domination, converting 48 of 67 (71.6%) save chances.  Closer Hector Rondon (6-4, 1.67ERA, 30/34 saves) made fans quickly forget the frustrating days of Carlos Marmol while energetic set-up man Pedro Strop (2-6, 2.91, 3/5) often made many wonder if Marmol was back as he would counter a 1-2-3, 3 strikeout inning with a meltdown of 2 walks, a couple hits, and a run. To that end, it appears that Jason Motte (8-1, 3.91, 6/7) assured himself a spot on the NLDS roster because of the post-season success (career 1-1, 8 saves, 2.08 ERA) and experience (19 appearances).  After that, there are some intriguing names.  Seattle castoff Fernando Rodney (2-0, 0.75, 0/1 as a Cub) was quite effective in his 14 appearances in a Cubs uniform.  He is a Joe Maddon favorite and could be key.  Justin Grimm and former starters Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard round out the staff.  The Cubs’ advantage here is only in the better ability to throw strikes than the Cardinals.  Otherwise, I like what the Cardinals have here.

Slight edge: St. Louis

Infield

The Cardinals have a solid starting unit here.  Matt Carpenter is one of the better all-around third baseman in the National League, and Jhonny Peralta has a strong bat for a shortstop.  On the right side, Kolten Wong probably had a better overall season than any Cubs second baseman, but more on that later.  First base is, frankly, a mess. Mark Reynolds and Brandon Moss will not remind anyone of Albert Pujols or Mark McGwire.

For the Cubs, this is their bread and butter.  For one, there is tremendous versatility and interchangeability.  Kris Bryant showed to be pretty much everything that was advertised at third base and Addison Russell, once he was moved back to his natural shortstop position, basically sucked up every ball hit anywhere in the same ZIP Code.  On the other side of the diamond, Starlin Castro suffered miserably from Opening Day through August.  And then something clicked. Once the calendar flipped to September, Castro turned into Babe Ruth.  All he did was hit .426 with a .750 SLG and 1.202 OPS.  While he was erratic defensively (6 errors in only 138 chances at second base), he occasionally came up with a spectacular play.  And what can be said that hasn’t been already said about the Cubs’ first baseman? Anthony Rizzo hit .278 with 31 HR and 101 RBI.  He added 17 stolen bases and got plunked 30 times, becoming the first player since Don Baylor to accumulate 30+ HR and 30+ HBP in one season.  Add to that Javier Baez, and this Cubs infield is really good.

Huge Edge: Chicago

Outfield

The Cardinals, due mostly to injury, did a lot of mix and match out here.  Veteran Matt Holliday battled injuries all year and played in fewer than half the Redbirds’ games.  Jason Heyward overcame a brutally slow start to put up good numbers in his walk year (.293, 16 HR, 60 RBI, .797 OPS).  Steven Piscotty was called up and had solid numbers in 63 games (.305, 7, 39) and Tommy Pham seemed to come up with every clutch hit for the Cardinals for a stretch of time in July and August.  John Jay and a (maybe?) healthy Randal Grichuk round out the group.

For the Cubs, Dexter Fowler (.250, but .346 OBP) gave the Cubs everything they needed in a leadoff man.  He scored 102 runs and walked 84 times, both tops on the team.  After that, Maddon seemed to stick with whoever had the hot hand from a group including Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia, and rookie Kyle Schwarber.  For the most part, Maddon’s hunch tended to work just fine.

Edge: Chicago

Catcher

Any other year, this would be no contest.  However, this is 2015. Yadier Molina is now 33 years old (catchers age a bit faster, remember) and is battling a finger issue.  He tore a ligament in his thumb in late September and has been cleared to play.  That injury will hinder his ability to grasp the bat at the plate and defensively (it is on his glove hand) as well.  If he plays, assume the Cubs will try to exploit this by running early and often and by bunting.  Backing him up is non-factor Tony Cruz who may be forced to be a factor.

For the Cubs, Miguel Montero had a decent enough offensive year (.248, 15, 53) and was tremendous defensively.  For those who still are not sold on the whole idea of “pitch framing”, watch the video of Jake Arrieta’s masterpiece against Pittsburgh in Wednesday’s Wild Card game.  Zero walks is the key number.  As in, no other pitcher in MLB history has had a post-season complete game of 10+ strikeouts and zero walks.  None.  While the pitcher throws the ball, the catcher has as much to do with that as anyone else.

Backing him up is crusty veteran David Ross.  A perfect example of how a player’s value needs to be measured by something far beyond measurable statistics.  Ross was phenomenal defensively, famously ending one game with a walk-off pickoff against the Washington Nationals.  Further, he was a true team leader.  It was his playing bodyguard for Arrieta in the Wild Card Game scrum against Sean Rodriguez which led to Rodriguez’ TKO of the Gatorade cooler.  Ross just would not let the Pirates’ utility man anywhere near his pitcher.

Edge: Chicago

Manager

Mike Matheny has been a good skipper for the Cardinals.  He keeps them atop the best division in MLB and doesn’t skip a beat through injuries.  But Maddon’s influence on the Cubs’ success in 2015 is other-worldly.  He plays quirky hunches.  He is masterful at negotiating his pitching staff.  He seems to pick the right guy at the right time.  He may be the best field manager of his time.

Huge Edge: Chicago

It all adds up to a Cubs victory in four games.

–Omar Gobby