Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cubs Look to Start a New Win Streak in San Diego

Well, a 6-1 Chicago Cubs homestand sure helped to take the sting out of a 2-5 road trip! The six-game win streak before Sunday's loss to the Pirates showed just how exciting this team can be. And as Joe Maddon would say, even with the last loss, the Cubs still Meatloafed the series. Of course, it'd be fine if the records for each of the last two weeks were more like 4-3, but hopefully the team will play better on the road this week. Below are five thoughts as the Cubs get set to face the San Diego Padres tonight.

1. This Jon Lester guy is pretty good, right? Seriously, though. He's allowed five earned runs in his last four starts, all wins, with three of them being won by only one run. Having a true ace at the top of this rotation only makes me want to see the Cubs go after Cole Hamels even more. (Later this week I'll highlight my favorite current Cubs prospects and then discuss what I'd be willing to give up for Hamels.)

2. Most of the offense is clicking right now, but Anthony Rizzo is standing out as an early MVP candidate. His .470 OBP is amazing, and it actually went up (from .469) on Sunday despite an 0-for-2 day, thanks to two walks. Kris Bryant continues to impress, and I believe it's only a matter of time before Jorge Soler gets consistent production at the plate.

3. I like Travis Wood in the bullpen. I don't know if he'll be available to pinch hit and pinch run as often as he was as a starter, but I guess you never really know with Maddon. He could enter each game with a different mindset about how he'll use Wood that day, reserving him as a reliever on some days, and keeping him in the dugout as an offensive reserve on others. Either way, I like giving Wada a shot at the rotation, and I assume this gets us one step closer to seeing Edwin Jackson leave town. (Also, can we be done with Schlitter for good yet, or what?)

4. The roster should have more flexibility now that Welington Castillo has been traded. Although it took months longer than any of us thought it would, Castillo is finally gone, and the Cubs roster now features the more typical total of two catchers. It'll be good to see Junior Lake on the bench instead of a third catcher.

5. Please don't let James Shields become a "Cubs Killer." When the Cubs made a late push to sign Shields this offseason and failed to do so, it automatically became an easy "story" for everyone to talk about whenever the team faces him. Shields is 5-0, and I'm already tired of hearing about how the Cubs let him "get away" when the team was never expected to sign a second big name after Lester anyway. Let's get Shields his first loss tonight and move toward Meatloafing another set.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cubs Go 2-5 on Road Trip

Writing these blogs is a lot more fun when the team is winning, and after a 2-5 road trip, wins seem very tough to come by these days. But there are still a lot of positives surrounding this team, and unlike the last few years, at least the Cubs are still in a position to compete here in early-May. Here are a few thoughts as the Cubs return home to face the Mets tonight.

1. The St. Louis Cardinals are just a very good organization. We all knew this already. In a way, the 1-3 outcome in St. Louis shouldn't be surprising at all. The Cardinals did just enough to come back and win the first two games, signs of a quality team facing a young team who hasn't learned to win yet. However, at least the goal is now right there in front of every Cubs player. They should collectively be thinking: "We're getting pretty good. But until we're THAT good, we aren't good enough." It's something that could take years to achieve, but at least we know where the bar is set.

2. I have no clue how to fix this bullpen. Luckily, I'm not one of the people being paid to do it. But really, where do they start? If it were as easy as sending Edwin Jackson packing, I'd say do it. However, when Edwin Jackson starts to look like a GOOD option, you're beyond just needing some help. If trading Welington Castillo could bring back a decent reliever, the front office needs to make that happen. I wasn't worried about the lack of pitching depth in the organization until now. We were told the hitters could always be traded for pitchers. It might be time to think about doing that.

3. At 15-15, the team is .500, which seems about right for this team. The Cubs have the talent to beat anyone. But this lineup will strike out a lot, and the bullpen has become an unavoidable wreck lately. For a team that started 13-27 last year, this is still a refreshing change. Fans are just hoping to see more victories starting soon.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Cubs Lose Series to Brewers

I know I've been doing five quick thoughts following each series, but this last one was depressing. Other than the first game, when Jon Lester finally looked like an ace, and Addison Russell hit his first home run, it was not a fun weekend. The Cubs just lost a series to a Milwaukee Brewers team that fired its coach after winning its first series of the year. So as we look forward to an important set in St. Louis and hope for better results, here's my one quick thought.

1. We hate the Brewers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cubs Win Pirates Series, Face Brewers Next

A busy work week leads to much shorter post, but here are my five quick thoughts following another series win against Pittsburgh.

1. Joe Maddon makes me hungry. After the Cubs lost to the Pirates 8-1 on Wednesday, Maddon said the team had "Meatloaf" in the series. You know. Cause they won two out of three. He said he wanted "Meatloaf" all season long. I don't know much about the singer or that song, but dang. Now I want meatloaf! All season long.

2. The bullpen struggled on Wednesday, but it didn't lose the game. It would've been different if the team lost 8-5. But the final was 8-1, and Kyle Hendricks gave up two of the runs himself. If the bullpen is going to have a bad game, it might as well be the one when the offense is shut down.

3. Junior Lake could be an important piece here. I've already discussed the left field position a bunch over the last two weeks, and this series shows why. Chris Coghlan was 0-for-7 in his two starts against Pittsburgh, while Lake went 2-for-5 in his start, his first game of the season. If Lake can produce, it will probably still remain a platoon for a while. But I like the potential of Lake earning the job eventually.

4. Miguel Montero needs to continue getting consistent work. I know the team is trying to maximize Welington Castillo's value, but it may be time to accept a loss there and move him for a low-level prospect or a potential bullpen piece.

5. We hate the Brewers. Grab Bag Sports has a history with this team and mainly its fans, so I'm obviously hoping for a sweep here. Again. We HATE the Brewers.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cubs Bounce Back to Sweep Reds on the Road

After splitting a four-game set in Pittsburgh last week, the Cubs swept both games in Cincinnati in a series shortened by a rain postponement on Saturday. The 11-inning 7-3 win on Friday night could end up being a huge turning point for the team, as a loss would've dropped the record to .500 at 8-8. Instead, the offense blew the game open while the bullpen shut the Reds down. With the Cubs heading back to Wrigley Field to kick off a three-game series against the Pirates, here are five quick thoughts:

1. This team has 10 wins already. Last year's 10th win came on May 2nd, bringing the team to 10-17. The Cubs haven't had 10 wins by April 26th since 2011, when the 10th win came in the 20th game on April 23rd to even the record at 10-10. It's nice to finally have an April that isn't a slow start that the team needs to overcome.

2. Addison Russell has 12 strikeouts and one huge hit. The kid is coming around, and even with six strikeouts in the two Cincinnati games, he came through with the bases-clearing double to make the difference in Sunday's 5-2 win. Eventually Russell and Jorge Soler will be hitting consistently, and this lineup will be even scarier.

3. Goodbye Brian Schlitter, hello Junior Lake! Contrary to what his awesome beard would lead you to believe, Schlitter is a miserable wreck on the mound in the Major Leagues. On the other hand, while Lake had a terrible season last year, he worked hard last fall, had a decent spring, and is hitting .289 at AAA Iowa. He'll be a great runner/hitter/fielder to bring in late in games. Great move all around.

4. Zac Rosscup and Gonzalez Germen have helped to stabilize the bullpen. The two combined to pitch 3.2 innings in Cincinnati, allowing two hits zero runs, while striking out six.

5. Can Dan Vogelbach play left field?? Forget everything I said in last week's post about the prospect race to LF. Vogelbach is crushing the ball at AA Tennessee, hitting .444 with three home runs, 13 RBIs, seven doubles, a .552 OBP, and an OPS of 1.293. If those Kris Bryant-like numbers aren't enough, he has 13 walks and only five strike outs. Unfortunately, Vogelbach has only played first base in the minors so far. Let's get him in the outfield!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cubs Split Series in Pittsburgh

The Chicago Cubs won the first two games of a four-game set in Pittsburgh before losing the final two, each by a single run. The team now sits a game above .500 heading into a big series in Cincinnati. Below are five thoughts following the Pirates series.

1. Addison Russell is here. The NL's new youngest player wasn't spectacular (yet), but he did have his first hits and a great RBI double. I love the promotion and his opportunity to learn on the job while playing for a team with a chance to compete now. I do believe Starlin Castro should remain at shortstop, at least until the All-Star Break, and probably the whole year. After that, if they want to find a way to move Russell to shortstop without trading Castro, I'd support that as well.

2. Kris Bryant will let the team know if/when he is uncomfortable. I'm sure the Cubs appreciate everyone's concerns about "putting too much" on Bryant's shoulders by having him hit 4th and play wacky positions like center field. But the kid is so confident in his talent, and he knows what he can and can't do. Although my fantasy lineup would benefit greatly from some LF eligibility for Bryant, if he's more comfortable in CF, then we should just trust everyone involved.

3. What will the Cubs do about the catcher situation? Getting a player like Matt Szczur back up from Iowa would help avoid the whole "Bryant in the outfield" thing and would be a lot easier if the team didn't have three catchers on the current roster. But it's a tough situation. Welington Castillo is obviously the one who will be moved eventually (if any are moved), but the team will not just give him away. Meanwhile, Castillo is hitting the ball well, while manager Joe Maddon loses flexibility within his roster. (By the way, why is no one talking about Junior Lake? I know he underperformed last year, but his spring was decent, and he isn't playing badly at Iowa.)

4. The bullpen quickly went from a strength to a problem. Guess what? Edwin Jackson and Brian Schlitter haven't magically gotten any better, despite the year changing to 2015 and injuries giving them chances to redeem themselves. I know it's shocking, but it's true. The good news is that Zac Roscup and Gonzalez Germen have looked good so far, so maybe there is still hope that this will get sorted out quickly. In the meantime, this team has got to cut its losses with Jackson and possibly give Schlitter one last chance in Iowa. The fans have reached our limit on Jackson's outings, I believe.

5. At least the Cubs aren't brawling with other teams. For a team that looked so awful for the first six weeks of 2014 (13-27 record on May 16), an 8-7 start is wonderful. If Jon Lester is the stopper he's being paid to be, the losing streak will end at two. Impressively, the Cubs were the last team to have a two-game losing streak this season. Bryant and Russell are starters, Jorge Soler looks like a veteran, and Castro has quickly become a leader. The team is clearly headed in the right direction, especially when compared to the other Chicago team. The White Sox are struggling at 6-9, and (former Cubs) ace Jeff Samardzija is fighting more consistently than winning. It's great to finally see the focus for the Cubs remain on the field.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Look at the Chicago Cubs Prospect Race to Left Field

The Chicago Cubs played a terrific game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night, winning the opening game of the series 5-2 and moving to 7-5 on the season. The team was led by rookie Kris Bryant (I guess we'll be saying this a lot this year), who had three hits and three RBIs, along with another walk.

Cubs fans got great news after the game, when it was reported that infield prospect Addison Russell would be called up from Iowa to join the team on Tuesday. With Tommy La Stella injured and Javier Baez suffering through a tough spring training (and now absent due to a death in the family), the team has a need at 2B. Therefore, Russell's future begins now.

Like all Cubs fans, I can't wait to see Russell in the lineup, playing in the infield with Bryant, Castro, and Rizzo. But now, we'll naturally look ahead to the NEXT prospect. Who will be up next?

If the current roster remains healthy, the next open spot for a prospect is likely left field. Chris Coghlan looked great early in the season, but he has definitely hit a rough stretch. As a result, Chris Denorfia, who recently returned from the DL, will get his chances to play in left field as well. But assuming none of the team's current options are able to bring some consistency, it's possible that another prospect could get his chance in 2015.

So just for fun, let's call this the "2015 Race to LF" and name the top five prospects who could have the opportunity to join the Cubs and help in the outfield.

1. Kyle Schwarber - He's first on this list because many of us believe he could be the "next" Kris Bryant. But even if he is, we know he's at least a year away. Bryant likely moved through the Cubs system as quickly as anyone will be allowed to under Epstein and Hoyer. By that logic, we shouldn't see Schwarber until at least 13 days into the 2016 season. Then again, maybe he'll have a great year, and the team will decide he could be the final piece for a playoff run now.

2. Javier Baez - Looking around Twitter and reading blogs, it seems many fans have written Baez off. I'm not even close to being ready to do that, considering he really hasn't had a full shot at the top level. Yes, he struggled in Chicago to close out last season, and his spring was pretty bad. And now he hasn't played a game for Iowa yet. But when he returns, what if he is moved to LF? What if he is inspired? What if he puts it all together? They say these shortstops should technically be able to play anywhere. I wouldn't count this out as a possibility and would love to see Baez playing well and hitting 6th or 7th for the Cubs this year.

3. Albert Almora - If Almora stays healthy and progresses as expected, he should at least be promoted to AAA Iowa at some point this season. He hasn't shown the power we'd like to see in LF, and he obviously is suited better to play CF, but he has made an appearance in LF already this year. If he begins to really play well at any point in 2015, he could land in Chicago.

4. Bijan Rademacher - Almora's teammate at AA Tennessee, Rademacher has only played RF this year. However, he did play 58 games in LF for Daytona last season, and he currently holds a .405 OBP with five RBIS in his first 10 games of 2015.

5. Billy McKinney - McKinney is at Myrtle Beach right now, and there is no way he will make the jump to Chicago this year. Also, like Almora, he's mainly a center fielder. But I think McKinney's future is bright, and he will either play a huge role in Chicago or will be moved for pitching or another need. His acquisition in the Samardzija/Russell trade was highly overshadowed by the other names involved, but his career OBP is .367, including an early .441 mark for this season. McKinney's career minor league walk-to-strikeout ratio of .639 is reminiscent of Jorge Soler's impressive .621 and far better than Bryant's .481, Russell's .454, and Almora's .322. A very long shot, but at this point, you never know who will be next.

Don't forget: Junior Lake and Matt Szczur. One or both of these would likely get a chance at LF before any of these listed prospects.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cubs Drop First Series of 2015, Kris Bryant Makes His Debut

While all of the buzz this weekend was focused on Kris Bryant's major league debut, the Chicago Cubs managed to drop two of three games to the San Diego Padres and lose their first series of the year. They'll quickly have a chance to bounce back against the Pirates though, with the next series kicking off tonight. Below are five thoughts from the Padres series.

1. Forget the expectations; Bryant was awesome. The Cubs offered James Shields a lot of money this offseason because he's good. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he easily handled Bryant in his major league debut. Still, despite going 0-for-4 with three strike outs, Bryant bounced back to finish the weekend with a .300 average (3-for-10) and a .500 on-base percentage. He'll be fine. The home runs will come.

2. The bullpen isn't perfect after all. After having a great start to the season as a whole, Cubs relievers combined to allow seven runs in 11.1 innings this weekend. The offense bailed out the bullpen for the extra innings win on Saturday, but I'm thinking the bullpen will right back to supporting the offense late in games very soon.

3. I like Starlin Castro hitting 5th. Let's be honest: Bryant will get better pitches to hit with Castro hitting behind him. Coghlan is a good player, but he won't exactly scare anyone into changing their approach against the hitter before him. Coghlan struggled this weekend and had just one hit, but more importantly, we need Castro to get to the plate more often.

4. Miguel Montero needs to start getting consistent playing time. Each of the team's three catchers got a start this weekend, but only Montero had an impact offensively. Of course, his two home runs on Saturday helped the team earn its only win in the series. He was brought to Chicago for a reason and is being paid like a top catcher in the game. I'd like to see him start getting the majority of the work, with Ross possibly catching Lester, and Castillo being used late off of the bench as needed.

5. Jon Lester looks better, and his "spring training" should be over now. He had a couple of bad pitches on Sunday, but if the Cubs had put together some offense, he could've easily earned a win in the game. We know he's been behind since early in the spring, but his adjustment period should be finished now. Let's hope we'll now see the Lester who deserved that huge contract.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

GBS Record Store Day Edition: Vista Blue - Baseball Rock

Help us celebrate Record Store Day by checking out our new band, Vista Blue. The debut album, Good Eye, features all songs about baseball, and it is free to stream or download right here at our bandcamp site.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kris Bryant Officially Promoted, Putting Addison Russell on Deck

So now that it's settled and Kris Bryant will make his MLB debut on Friday, Cubs fans should begin watching and hoping for Addison Russell's arrival. With a chance to play second base at AAA Iowa during Javy Baez's absence over the last week, Russell is crushing the ball, hitting .355 with seven RBIs in seven games. This follows a spring training where we saw him hit .317 over 40 at-bats while looking like he belonged on the field as much as anyone else.

Before he was traded to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija deal last summer, Russell was on track to open this year as Oakland's starting shortstop. Although the middle infield in his new organization seemed fairly jammed up when he arrived, things are slowly working themselves out. Starlin Castro continues to lead Chicago in hitting and has a firm grasp on the shortstop spot for now, but second base seems open due to infield injuries (Tommy La Stella, Mike Olt) and slow starts (Baez, Arismendy Alcantara).

With Chris Coghlan off to a hot start in left field (.304 with two home runs), the lineup is really strong. But imagine it with Russell hitting .300 from the 2B spot.

I imagine the Cubs lineup would look something like this:

1. Fowler
2. Rizzo
3. Soler
4. Bryant
5. Coghlan
6. Castro
7. catcher
8. pitcher
9. Russell

We knew we wouldn't see this lineup coming out of spring training two weeks ago. Now, however, it's only a phone call away. Could we see it by May 1st? June 1st?

First, of course, we'll focus on Bryant and his adjustment to his new home. But if he takes off quickly, as many are expecting him to, "Russell Watch" will begin shortly.

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