May 2012

Behind Enemy Lines – Pirates

New feature boys and girls!  In “behind enemy lines” we invite a blogger from an opposing team to preview the upcoming series from their side of things, hope you enjoy it!  Today, Alex who runs Manny Sanguillen’s Barbecue (A pirates blog) gives us a first hand look at the Pirates heading into this series.  You can follow Alex on Twitter @Sangys_BBQ

Your Chicago Cubs have lost nine games in a row and it doesn’t look like there will be a saving grace. The Pirates are looking to extend the Cubs losing streak to at least ten games, which would be their first double-digit losing streak since 1997, when they lost 14 in a row. The good news for those who want the record to stand is that the Pirates haven’t won on a Friday this season — they have even been shut out three times, which includes a near no-hitter tossed by Justin Verlander on the 18th.

Pirates’ Pitching

The best thing for the Pirates this season has been their pitching, and by a large margin. Their team ERA of 3.33 is third in the National League.

Game 1: A.J. Burnett (2-2, 4.78 ERA)

A.J. Burnett is the best Pirates starter this season and by far. Despite his ERA hovering around 5.00, Burnett has only had one rocky start, which was a 2 2/3 inning debacle against the St. Louis Cardinals in which he allowed 12 runs. If you subtract that game, his ERA is 2.06, which would be fifth in the Majors and the National League. At home this season, Burnett has a 1.57 ERA in three starts, as well as a WHIP of 0.78 and a K/9 ratio of 8.2. Over his career against the Cubs, Burnett is 4-0 with a 4.06 ERA in five starts – not so good, but the last time A.J. Burnett threw in the National League was in 2005. This game seems to be the rubber match of the series, with Burnett and Dempster going at it.

Game 2: Kevin Correia (1-5, 4.50 ERA)

The whipping boy of the Pirates’ rotation takes the bump on Saturday for game two of the three-game set. When the Pirates acquired A.J. Burnett over the offseason, oddly enough the man who is starting the day before him, Correia was expected to be the odd man out of the rotation, or even demoted to AAA. When Burnett shattered his orbital bones in Spring Training during Clint Hurdle’s annual bunting tournament, which really does exist, and Charlie Morton wasn’t ready for the season, Correia got another chance. His 4.50 ERA and 1.07 K/BB ratio show exactly why he wasn’t expected to be in the rotation at the beginning of the season. Last season, Correia was better on the road than at home, as evidenced by his home/away splits from the 2011 season. However, his home/road splits have been nearly equal this season, having an ERA of 4.50 at both PNC Park and on the road, albeit having three less starts at PNC. Last season against your Cubs, Correia was absolutely terribad. In four starts, Correia somehow broke even at 2-2 despite having an ERA of 7.11 and a God-awful 1.79 WHIP. I don’t care if you’ve scored what the Pirates have this season (2.9 runs per game), when this guy is taking the mound, you have a good chance of winning.

Game 3: Erik Bedard (2-5, 3.52 ERA)

The second new member of the Pirates’ rotation, and the only southpaw, climbs the mound for the ultimate game of the intra-division three-game set. Surprisingly, the injury-ridden Bedard has only missed one start this season after suffering back spasms on May 9th against the Washington Nationals. Bedard has been rocked for eight runs in his past two games after suffering the back spasms, raising his ERA from 2.57 on May 9th to 3.52 on May 21st. Oddly enough, Bedard has never thrown a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in his career, one of only five teams that he has never pitched against. Bedard performs fairly well at home as opposed to on the road, going 0-2, which is a horrible indicator of his performance, with an ERA of 3.15 and a WHIP of 1.35.

HOT

Andrew McCutchen has been tearing the league a new you-know-what over his past 15 games. In those 15 games, McCutchen has hit .400/.426/.764, yes, he has a slugging percentage of .764, with six home runs (of his seven season roundtrippers), and 16 RBI. Rod Barajas has been warm, but not hot, over his last ten games, hitting a triple-slash of .343/.351/.686 with three home runs. I would really like to say that other players have been hot lately, but there have only been two, which is pretty good — if you’re a Cubs fan.

COLD

The Pirates have a boatload of cold players, but I’m only going to name a few. Neil Walker has been ice-cold over his last ten games, hitting .205/.222/.341 and has cost the Pirates 1.33 wins. His on-base percentage has dipped from .331 to .299, and his slugging percentage from .679 to .631. Walker is not the only infielder who has been cold as of late, as Pedro Alvarez joined him in his descent from mediocrity. In his past ten starts, Alvarez has hit an appalling .189/.244/.270 slash line, going from the hottest Pirates player to the coldest.

Prediction

Typically if I were writing this, the Pirates would be looking up at the Cubs in the standings. Sadly for Cubs fans (but great for myself, a long-suffering Pirate fan), the Cubs are sitting at the bottom of the NL Central and the Pirates are smack dab in the middle. I don’t expect the Cubs’ 9-game losing streak to end any time soon, and the Buccos have a good chance of sweeping the Cubs, as much as I am shocked to say it. As long as the pitching can hold up, the Pirates will win, but if the pitching fails there is no chance for the Pirates. The Cubs’ game plan should be to get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in, kind of like the small-ball that Clint Hurdle has instituted with the Pirates.

Thanks again to Alex for contributing to our blog and giving us an inside look at the Pirates

- George

The Kyler Burke Story

Peoria got another stellar outing from LHP Kyler Burke last night as he went 6 innings giving up 2 hits and allowing no earned runs.  He recorded his first win of the season dropping his ERA to 2.31.  The 25-year-old has enjoyed success thus far as a pitcher dating back to last year at Boise where he pitched out of the bullpen.  He ended the season with a 2.86 ERA in 44 innings pitched including one save while striking out just over one batter per inning.

So what makes Kyler Burke so interesting?  Well we need to get in the time machine and go back a few years to 2007 when Michael Barrett was on the wrong side of Carlos Zambrano’s fists.  Shortly after that memorable June day the Cubs traded Barrett to the Padres for two players.  Most of us remember or are trying to forget that we received catcher Rob Bowen, but many don’t recall the centerpiece in the deal was a 19-year-old OF who was drafted 35th overall in just the previous years draft.  That player was Kyler Burke and the Cubs were very happy to acquire the talented outfielder.  Burke’s next few seasons were plagued by drastic inconsistency with the highlight coming in 2009 when he was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year.  He hit .303 with 15 HR, and 89 RBI’s in Peoria.  The next year however was when things took a turn for the worse, while in Daytona Burke hit only .212 with 131 strikeouts in 135 games.  The following March the Cubs and Burke, who had pitched in high school, decided it was time for a change and with that Kyler Burke began his new career as a pitcher.

The Cubs have to be happy with his progress thus far, as he is doing quite well in only his second year as a pitcher.  Burke recently has moved from the pen to the starting rotation for Peoria with pretty good results.  Where will Kyler Burke go from here we don’t know, but with a premium on quality left-handed arms out of the bullpen it is hard to think he won’t make it to the show as a big league pitcher sometime down the road.  As long as it seems Kyler Burke’s story has been, it really has just begun.  The best of luck to him on his continued development and we hope to see him at Wrigley somtime in the future.

Thanks for Reading,
Mark

May 25, 2012 – Cubs Lineup vs. Pirates

The Cubs look to avoid a double digit losing streak and hope to get Ryan Dempster his first win of the season as the they take on the Pirates.  Here is how the Cubs will line up.

1. DeJesus – RF
2. Castro – SS
3. Mather – CF
4. LaHair – 1B
5. Soriano – LF
6. Stewart – 3B
7. Barney – 2B
8. Hill – C
9. Dempster – P

Thanks, go Cubs!
– George

5/24: Around the Cubs Minor League System

Here is a recap of the Cubs minor league system from 5/24/12, enjoy.

FULL BOX SCORE

Kyler Burke was fantastic yet again on Thursday night as he earned his first win of the season going six innings only allowing one run, unearned on two hits, his ERA dropped to 2.31 on the season.  The Chiefs had the bats going as they pounded out 13 hits, every Chiefs player had a hit in the win.  Oliver Zapata was 3-for-4 with a double, a run, and two RBI’s. he’s now hitting .284 on the season.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

Daytona was in a hitting mood as they knocked out 11 hits, unfortunately they couldn’t string anything together and fell to St. Lucie 5-2.  Greg Rohan continued his solid season as he went 3-for-4 with a double, a home run and an RBI.  Ryan Searle struggled on the mound for the D-Cubs as he dropped his first game of the season.  Searle only last 3 and 2/3rds while giving up three runs on six hits in the loss.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

Junior Lake won’t stop hitting, and that’s a good thing, the young star in the making was 2-for-4 in the loss, his average is now at .328 on the season.  Dallas Beeler struggled with his command in this one, however Beeler still battled through six innings earning a quality start.  Unfortunately the Smokies offense couldn’t plate another run and Beeler was hung with the loss as he dropped to 1-4 on the season.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

Sorry boys and girls, Anthony Rizzo didn’t hit a home run today, he did rope a double off the top of the wall so he came close at least.  The I-Cubs fell behind early and often and couldn’t dig out of that hole as they fell to Tacoma 7-2.  Brett Jackson and Ty Wright each had two hits, but the I-Cubs could only muster a total of 8 knocks in the loss.  Chris Rusin finally had a rough outing as he only lasted four innings while allowing four runs, three earned, on seven hits to take his 4th loss of the season.

Thanks for reading,
– George

May 25 – 27; @ Pirates – Series Preview

Pittsburgh Pirates Logo - A pirate inside a yellow diamond with 'Pirates' above

Normally I would preview this series as the Cubs taking on a lesser opponent in the Pirates, only because that’s how it’s been forever, unfortunately the shoe is on the other foot right now.  The Cubs are the worst team in baseball, and that’s just by looking at their record, sure the Pirates haven’t been good either, but the Cubs are a low scoring soccer team right now, that’s not a compliment, and I hate soccer so that’s hard for me to say.  The Cubs offense wasn’t very good in the early part of the season, but it has reached a new level of bad during this nine game losing streak.  If the Cubs are going to get out of this slide they need to explode, I’m talking 6-9 runs in one game… I know, crazy.  Maybe if they do that the pressure will be off and they can all relax, until then they will continue to squeeze the saw dust out of the bat and lose.  It won’t be easy because one, it never is with this team, and two, the Pirates boast the 3rd best team ERA in the National League.  Full preview/breakdown after the jump.

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5/23: Around the Cubs Minor League System

Here is a recap of the Cubs minor league system from 5/23/12, enjoy.

FULL BOX SCORE

Nothing went right for Peoria on Wednesday as they were pounded by Clinton 11-0.  The Chiefs only managed five hits on the day, two of which from Yaniel Cabezas.  It got worse on the mound as Jose Rosario was not very good in 3 and 2/3rds of an inning, he gave up nine runs, all earned, on nine hits.  The bright spot was Jeffery Lorick tossing two more spotless innings while striking out three, his ERA is now 0.52.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

The D-Cubs staged a comeback and looked like they were on their way to a victory Wednesday, but that was before St. Lucie had a rally of their own en route to an 8-7 victory.  Ronald Torreyes looking to get his season back on track went 3-for-3 with a double, and two RBI’s.  Greg Rohan launched his seventh home run of the season in the loss.  Frank Del Valle struggled on the mound for Daytona as he gave up five runs in five innings, he didn’t get any help from his defense as only two of those runs were earned.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

A wild first four innings yielded 13 total runs, unfortunately the Smokies were on the short end of that total and couldn’t muster much after that as they fell 8-6 to Mobile.  Junior Lake is raking right now as he went 2-for-5 with a double and a run, he is now hitting .317 on the season.  James Adduci, Justin Bour, and Rebel Ridling all had two hits in the loss with Ridling hitting another home run.  Nicholas Struck had a rare poor outing as he surrendered six runs, all earned in three innings of work.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

Anthony Rizzo just won’t stop, the phenom was 2-for-4 with his 16th home run of the season in an 8-3 loss to Tacoma.  Brooks Raley made his Iowa debut and had a rough go of it.  Raley gave up five runs, only three earned as he suffered his first loss.  Josh Vitters continues to hit as he went 3-for-4 in the loss, he also had a double and an RBI, he is now hitting .267 on the season. 

 

Thanks for reading,
– George

Cubs Swept in Houston

Another day, another loss for the Cubs who got swept in Houston Wednesday night.  However the Cubs did hold the lead for a short period of time in the series finale against the Houston Astros.  The Cubs got the scoring started in the first when Reed Johnson hit a homerun just inside the left field foul pole to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.  Samardzija and the Cubs would hold the lead until the bottom of the fourth when with two outs and runners on 1st and 3rd JD Martinez blooped a ball into right field.  DeJesus came racing in while Barney went back and just when it looked like DeJesus made the catch, Barney knocked it out of his glove and both runs scored on a triple by Martinez.

As you guessed the Cubs offense couldn’t get anything else going and when they did they once again couldn’t come up with a big hit.  The Astros added three runs in the eighth off of Rafael Dolis, who was brought in to get some work in.  He was not sharp in 2/3 innings, but it is hard to stay sharp as a closer when your team loses nine games in a row.  Brett Myers came in and the Cubs went down quietly in the ninth losing 5-1.  The good news is the Cubs will not lose their 10th straight tomorrow as they have a day off, before starting a three game series in Pittsburgh starting Friday.  Full box score and highlights after the jump.

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May 23, 2012 – Cubs Lineup vs. Astros

Please don’t lose nine in a row.  The Cubs take the field tonight behind arguably their best pitcher Jeff Samardzija, hoping to avoid a nine game losing streak.  Another streak they would like to break is not having a lead in 59 straight innings.. when it’s bad, it’s bad.  Dale Sveum is not at the ballpark and will miss this one as he is in Arizona for his son’s graduation.  Jaime Quirk will fill in for Sveum, here’s the lineup.

Thanks for reading, Go Cubs!
– George

 

The Anthony Rizzo “Dilemma”

Everyone and their brother has been chiming in on what to do with prized prospect Anthony Rizzo so I guess it’s time that I do the same.  I don’t think the question of “is Rizzo ready” makes sense, Rizzo is ready to face big league pitching.  His numbers over the last two seasons in Triple-A prove that, even if he wasn’t successful last year in San Diego in just under 100 at bats.  The main concern for Rizzo entering this season was to improve against left-handed pitching.  Well, in 47 at bats this year against lefties he is hitting .327 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s, as well as a .377 OBP, and a .969 OPS.  I guess you would consider that acceptable, and an improvement.  Not to mention his full season numbers are down right gaudy.  A .352 average, 15 home runs, 42 RBI’s, and an OPS of 1.115 make a promotion at this point a no-brainer.  So what are the issues standing in the way of Rizzo, let’s take a look.

First let’s get this out-of-the-way, here is the important information you need to know about the major league baseball roster rules and how they pertain to arbitration.

Players who have at least three years, but fewer than six, of Major League service time, are eligible to file for arbitration. In addition, there are the so-called “Super Two” players. These are the top 17 percent of players, based on service time, with at least two but fewer than three years of service. The rule states that a player must have at least 86 days of service in the immediately preceding season to qualify for this status. Typically, the cut-off for the top 17 percent has been around two years, 130 days of total service, though the days fluctuate from year to year.

You might want to keep that handy so you can refer back to it.

Issue # 1 – Team Control

Currently the Cubs have team control over Anthony Rizzo until the 2018 season.  That could change depending on when the Cubs call Rizzo up to the big leagues.  Because Rizzo accumulated 68 days of service last year with the Padres he would need another 104 days of service to qualify for one year of MLB service.  He could get that this year, that’s why June 21 is such an important date.  If the Cubs call up Rizzo before June 21st, they will lose a year of control, so know they would only have control over Rizzo until 2017.  If I had to guess, I would think the Cubs are not really focusing too much on this date as if Rizzo belongs here he will be extended before then.

Issue # 2 – “Super Two” Status

This was touched on in the roster rules explanation above, told you to keep it handy.  If the first issue of team control was concern over losing Rizzo, this issue would be a concern over paying Rizzo, a lot, and sooner than later.  You want to know how important this can be, here’s an example from Jonathan Mayo.

Tim Lincecum made his Major League debut on May 6, 2007. Mark Reynolds came up on May 16 of that season and Ryan Braun followed on May 25.

Jump forward three years and Lincecum, following back-to-back Cy Young Awards, is now making $9 million a year as part of a two-year, $23 million extension, after making $650,000 in 2009. Ryan Braun went from $1,032,500 in 2009 to $1,287,500 as part of the eight-year extension he signed in 2008. And Reynolds? He was set to make $500,000 this year before his contract was reworked in a three-year extension. He’ll make the same base salary this season (he gets a nice signing bonus) before it jumps in the following years.

Lincecum had two years, 148 days of service, making him a Super Two. Reynolds was at two years, 138 days, just short of qualifying.

That’s an 8 million dollar difference, sure that might not be considered a lot for a team like the Cubs but it’s still something to consider.  So this begs the question, when would Rizzo need to be called up to avoid this “super two” status?  Late August if the Cubs want to be completely free and clear of running into this issue with Rizzo.  I would think the Cubs would be concerned about this, especially with eating big contracts of late, but again, if Rizzo is going to be worth the money anyway does it really matter?  I think it’s totally different with a hitter than a pitcher, hitting usually doesn’t disappear while pitching could go bye-bye with one snap in an elbow.

Issue # 3 – Playing Time

Everyone knows that Anthony Rizzo can hit, well he is also a gold glove calibre first baseman, so that is where he is going to play when he is called up to the Cubs.  Currently Bryan LaHair has been a pleasant surprise at first base so Rizzo would be blocked at this point.  Now that “block” is not really a huge deal because guys can move around, but Rizzo won’t be one of them.  Best guess would be DeJesus moving to CF, LaHair moving to RF, and Rizzo playing 1B, and Tony Campana becomes what he is which is a specialist off the bench.  By the time Brett Jackson is ready to assume full-time duties in CF DeJesus will be gone or Soriano will be gone so there will be an opening.  Dale Sveum is focused on the playing time, ‘‘He’s really done everything he can down there. But once again, when you bring somebody like that up, he’s got to play every day.‘‘That’s the million-dollar question: How do we get him that playing time?’’  To me this is the most important aspect of this whole process, Rizzo needs to play everyday, good or bad, or his promotion doesn’t make any sense.

Issue # 4 – Will Rizzo Help the Cubs?

I think a lot of people looking at the situation are ignoring this issue, and I think you really have to take this into consideration.  Will Anthony Rizzo help a team that is arguably the worst in baseball?  Probably not, I mean he is one player, the Cubs are more than one player away from being a contending team, that’s just a fact at this point.  Fans expecting Rizzo to come up and blow the doors off the Cubs offense are probably going to be disappointed.  Is it worth it for the Cubs to risk all of the above factors to bring Rizzo up so they can win 5-10 more games this season but still finish at the bottom of the NL?  I don’t know the answer to that, but winning isn’t exactly a priority this year, like it or not.

As you can see there are many issues standing in the way of a Rizzo promotion at this point.  Personally I don’t think any one outweighs the other.  The Cubs have continued to preach patience, not only with the teams current success rate, but also with bringing Rizzo up.  In my opinion I think the Cubs are doing the right thing here and really have no good reason to bring Rizzo up at this point.  The one thing I will say is this, Rizzo needs to be in the big leagues, he’s 22, he’s a can’t miss prospect, he needs to be learning on the job now because there is nothing left from him to improve upon in the minor leagues.  That being said, if bringing him up “early” means the Cubs can’t afford to keep him or another player, maybe a pitcher around down the road then it might not be a bad idea to wait until after that June 21st date.  What’s another 3-4 weeks with this team, it’s not going to make a difference in the standings, at least I don’t think it will.  That is the logical side of me speaking, the other side says I’m tired of watching dull, entertainment-less baseball, I want to watch Rizzo, and I want to watch him now.

My prediction:  Cubs will call Rizzo up on or around June 1, if not, June 22.

Thanks for reading,
– George

5/22: Around the Cubs Minor League System

Here is a recap of the Cubs minor league system from 5/22/12, enjoy.

Peoria was off

FULL BOX SCORE

Matt Szczur is playing his way towards a promotion right now.  The D-Cubs outfielder is in a torrid stretch, he went 2-for-4 again last night with a double, a walk, and an RBI, oh, and his 19th stolen base of the season.  Nelson Perez, and Greg Rohan each chipped in with a home run in the thrilling 6-5 victory over St. Lucie.  PJ Francescon made his Daytona debut and he picked up where he left off in Peoria.  Francescon went six innings, allowed two runs, one earned on three hits, unfortunately he settled for a no decision.

***

FULL BOX SCORE

Junior Lake continues to hit as he went 3-for-5 in a 4-3 loss to Mobile last night.  Lake belted his 2nd home run of the season, a solo shot to lead off the game, he has his average up to .310 on the year.  Jeffery Antigua got the start for the Smokies and took his first loss of the season.  Antigua went four innings, giving up two runs on six hits, not too bad at all, unfortunately the Smokies offense couldn’t get it going early for him.

 ***

FULL BOX SCORE

Another day, another Anthony Rizzo show as the Iowa Cubs took out some frustration in an 18-8 beat down of Tacoma.  Rizzo was 3-for-5 with his 15th home run of the season, he also scored five runs.  Every I-Cubs player in the starting lineup had a hit as Iowa put 18 hits and 18 runs on the board, but they also got the help of seven errors, seven.  Those seven errors led to seven unearned runs in an absolutely wild game.  Chris Volstad made his first I-Cubs start and got the win, he struggled a little late but the most important thing is he got back in the win column, hopefully that gives him some confidence.

Sappelt’s RBI double

http://www.milb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=21673671&width=400&height=224&property=milb

Thanks for reading,
– George

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