Monday, June 22, 2015

The Media Should Start With Themselves When It Comes to Equal Treatment for Women’s Soccer

Today ESPN’s Julie Foudy came out with an online rant about the shock over Brazil being upset by Australia in the Round of 16 for the Women’s World Cup.

Julie’s rant was not because she was mad about people underestimating Australia or overestimating Brazil, it was because the reality of the situation is Brazil’s high expectations come from its association to its Men’s national team; but while the expectations are equally high, the support/treatment the Women’s team gets by the fans/nation/media is vastly different.

She went beyond Brazil though and called for our globe to push faster to treat Women’s soccer properly and at least closer to equal to the men’s game.

Julie has a genuine beef, and she’s not even the only person to voice that opinion. In the UK, The Guardian’s Graham Ruthven came out today with an article scathing UK fans, corporate (non) supporters, and the BBC for basically ignoring/relegating England’s team and their matches, who play in the Round of 16 today against Norway.

I completely agree with them, the treatment of the Women’s tournament isn’t anything near what is done for the Men’s tournament; heck men’s 1st round qualifying to get in the World Cup almost gets more attention than the women’s actual tournament in most countries.

If things are going to change the most notable place has to be with FIFA, whose president infamously doesn’t even know who the players are and an organization not sending any higher ups to the Women’s tournament. But the change isn’t just for them to show up its for them to restructure their contracts for the TV partners and sponsors. The contracts should be written as package deals with requirements that the TV partners broadcast the men and women on the same channels, no more shoving women’s matches to Fox Sports 2 or BBC Three which the majority of populations don’t even know exist.

As for the sponsors it should be a requirement of 1:1 share, if you run an ad for the men’s game you run an ad for the women’s game. If there’s a billboard with a men’s player during that tournament, then there should be one during the women’s tournament.

Telling FIFA to change is one thing that so little of us have control over. Where Graham Ruthven and Julie Foudy have direct control is over their employers. The Guardian for example didn’t even send a reporter to Canada to cover the tournament, and instead is using Reuters and the AP for the majority of its content.

In fact if you go to The Guardian’s main football/soccer home page, you get big headlines on the Premiere League, Champions League, Europa League quick links and then a small article on the fact that England is playing in the round of 16 today.



That's right, even for the Guardian, who is mad that not enough people cover/watch/support the Women's World Cup enough, even with their own country playing in the Round of 16 today isn’t as important as the fact that West Ham United is beginning to practice. Pot, kettle and all that...

Foudy should ask in a video rant, why ESPN seems hell-bent on segregating the Women’s World Cup to its own far away section of their website, structured completely different (and terribly) from the rest of the sports they cover.

If you go to espn.com right from the front page you get a selection of sports and scores in the header, and no matter what I pick (Racing, NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball etc.) I immediately get a sub-menu with quick links for scores, standings/tables, schedule, etc.


I have a very simple thing I want to do right now: find out when the games are tonight? Who is playing? What the bracket/standings are for the Women's World Cup? But doing so is not so easy for the Women’s World Cup.

You click that from the main menu and you are thrown to the esotericly built ESPN-W a.k.a. ESPN for Women (because nothing says inclusion like segregation and different treatment). Looking at everything above the fold for the “home” of the Women’s World Cup you can’t even find a link for scores, schedule!!! No way to quickly find important details a fan would want.



You’ll see at the very bottom in tiny text “Bracket” and “Schedule” even though the most obvious thing to splash on this screen are the latest scores and the upcoming games. If you scroll down further there’s an obtuse button for “Live Scores, Stats & Data powered by ESPNFC.”

Speaking of ESPNFC, in all fairness its worth mentioning that ESPN treats all soccer different by going to a separate website, but somewhat warranted because unlike the NFL, NHL, NBA etc. there isn’t one central sporting body that everyone follows, theres more soccer/football leagues than you could shake a stick at.

That being said, from the ESPNFC site you can pick any of the major leagues and the first thing you get are the most recent scores, and links on the primary navigation to find out upcoming matches and the current standings.



This is the easiest way to get standings, scores and schedule for the Women's World Cup... but doing so requires you to ignore the main navigation button on the ESPN home page for said Women's World Cup.

For whatever reason the number of clicks to get scores and standings for every other sport ESPN covers = 2; and those buttons are right in the main navigation. For the Women’s World Cup, its 3+ clicks plus the fact that one of those buttons requires you to scroll down below the fold to find, and even then its not simply named “scores, schedule and standings” like a normal person would call it, they call it “scores, stats and data” which sounds like fantasy sports if anything...

We can all agree that the globe has some work to do to recognize Women’s soccer for the great sporting competition it is, but everyone has to do their part, even the media covering it.

Goodbye, Kyle Schwarber. See you soon!

The Cubs went 3-3 last week, following a rain out and a home loss to the Indians with a 3-2 road trip to Cleveland and Minnesota. The team remains seven games over .500 (37-30), Starlin Castro won another game, and top draft pick Ian Happ kicked off his minor league career with a huge weekend. Still, the biggest story of the week was the play of catcher Kyle Schwarber, who joined the Cubs from AA-Tennessee to DH in the five games played in American League parks before being "promoted" to AAA-Iowa today.

While the Cubs front office spends the next month or two finding a way to get Schwarber's bat back into the lineup if and when a playoff chase becomes imminent, I'm hoping to be able to see him here in Nashville when Iowa comes to town in late July. But I think his minor league days may be numbered, and depending on injuries and/or what happens at the trade deadline, Schwarber could be back in Chicago very soon.

Taking another look at left field, it's not like Chris Coghlan is playing terrible baseball. He's hitting .252 with eight home runs, his OBP is up to .332, and his OPS is at .772. But even with a tiny sample size of five starts, Schwarber seems like a sure upgrade, hitting .364 last week with a .391 OBP and a .982 OPS. Factor in his career minor league numbers (.333 avg, .432 OBP, 1.042 OPS), and it may not take long for him to dominate at Iowa like he did in Tennessee. Hopefully he can get some innings in left field while he's there.

As players like Jorge Soler, Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez, and Tommy La Stella get ready to return from injuries, the Cubs may not need to trade away a ton of prospects to get a boost at mid-season. I'd like to see the focus on someone like Ben Zobrist and a good starting pitcher, while Sxhwarber gets ready to return and bring some power.

This week's games against the Dodgers and Cardinals will be a better gauge  of just how much the Cubs need to do to compete in the NL this year. Fans should be hoping for at least four wins, although a 3-4 record this week wouldn't be a disaster. In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on Kyle Schwarber and his AAA debut, waiting for the team to bring him back to Chicago.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Starlin Castro temporarily silences critics

The Cubs had another great week, splitting two games in Detroit while finally getting me that blowout win before taking three of four from the Reds at home. Although Anthony Rizzo is slumping, Kris Bryant is currently enjoying an 11-game hitting streak, and the pitching staff has been great recently.

Still, the undeniable hero of the weekend was Starlin Castro, whose walk-off hits have won the last two games. While I'm sure we'll continue to hear about Castro trade rumors, I'm still hoping the team decides to keep him around. I know about the mental errors and the fact that his numbers are currently down. But I believe he's going to bounce back, possibly starting now after those two big games.

Castro may not ever win an MVP award or even a batting title, but he does have a place in this team and in this lineup. Maybe he eventually settles in the 6th or 7th slot, particularly after Kyle Schwarber arrives. That's fine. Either way, Castro is capable of getting a base hit at any time off of any pitcher, and that is a valuable asset.

Castro entered the league with such high potential that his critics now see him as an underachiever, which is kind of absurd. The only thing that matters to me is whether or not the team can win with him at shortstop. And I sincerely believe the Cubs can win with Castro and that he can contribute to winning teams.

In fact, Castro's numbers would be fine on many past winning teams. Just to pick a year, I went back 30 years to 1985. I pulled the season's best shortstops and the shortstops from the best teams, just to see where Castro's numbers would fit in. As I guessed, he would be somewhere in the middle. He's no Cal Ripken, but he'd be far from the worst.

As the 2015 Cubs get set to host the Cleveland Indians tonight, and Castro hopefully continues to stay hot, here is a look at shortstop stats from 1985 to give us some perspective.

Cal Ripken, Baltimore (AL All-Star and Silver Slugger) - 26 HR, 110 RBI, .282 avg, .347 OBP, .816 OPS

Hubie Brooks, Montreal (NL Silver Slugger) - 13 HR, 100 RBI, .269 avg, .310 OBP, .723 OPS

Tony Fernandez, Toronto (Played in ALCS) - 2 HR, 51 RBI, .289 avg, .340 OBP, .730 OPS

Ozzie Smith, St. Louis (Won NLCS, played in World Series) - 6 HR, 54 RBI, .276 avg, .355 OBP, .716 OPS

Mariano Duncan, Los Angeles (Played in NLCS) - 6 HR, 39 RBI, .244 avg, .293 OBP, .633 OPS

Onix Concepcion, Kansas City (Won World Series) - 2 HR, 20 RBI, .204 avg, .255 OBP, .500 OPS

---

Starlin Castro, 2014 (last full season) - 14 HR, 65 RBI, .292 avg, .339 OBP, .777 OPS

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Winter Olympics Needs More Sports - We Vote Yukigassen

So the IOC announced today/this weekend that they have officially puled parallel snowboarding from the Winter Olympics. This means Sochi is the only Olympics that will ever have the event since that was the first time for it.

In addition to that they have added events/disciplines in 4 other sports to bring the grand total of medal events for the Winter Olympics to 102, the first time its ever reached the triple digit mark. For reference, the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics had 80 medal events, the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid had 38 medal events; while the Summer Olympics (which has to remove sports because it has so many) had 302 medal events in London 2012.

That last part is what this is really about. The Winter Olympics just pales in comparison to the Summer games. Summer Olympic competition has recently kicked out baseball, softball, polo, windsurfing and even bowling (yes bowling was in the 1988 Olympics). It has a problem making room for old sports that have always wanted in (Rugby and Golf) and has plenty newer sports that deserve to be in (rock climbing, cricket, roller sports).

The problem for the Winter Olympics is that even the 4 new events they added are just variations/disciplines of existing sports. Mixed curling, mixed/team skiing, Snowboard Big Air, and speed skating "mass start." I'm ready to officially dub this GBS' favorite sport of the 2018 Olympics. 30+ people skating around the long track a the same time = awesome:



Big air of course will add excitement and big moments, while mixed team skiing will break up the monotony of 1 person at a time that happens in almost all winter Olympic sports. I'm not sure what co-ed curling adds, but hey GBS will never complain about sports being added to the Olympics, especially when its not a judged event. But even now these 4 additions are still disciplines, and Winter need new sports, not just new events at the same facilities; so here are our submissions to the IOC, and these are REAL submissions, these sports have official sanctions and competitions already around the globe.

#1 Ice Cross (aka Crashed Ice)

Its a newer sport but not newer than many of the other XGames based sports the Olympics has been adding. Its a simple concept to watch and understand and it translates amazingly on TV. Downhill racing on skates while wearing hockey style pads. There's plenty bumping and action in the course and its already got a huge following; not to mention bidding cities could have an amazing time building the courses in historic downtown areas.




#2 Sled Dog Racing


This was actually part of the 1932 Olympics but did not become an official permanent event. It should, its got history in many countries and is regularly contested around the world, including the internationally known marquee event in the Iditarod. Now some people would point to the dogs being the participants rather than the human athlete, and I would find it hard to disagree... but so long as Equestrian is in the Summer Olympics that door is open by the IOC.

Plus could you imagine the cute huskies being part of the opening ceremony?


#3 Yukigassen
A.K.A. Snow Ball Fights. Yukigassen is such a no brainer, everyone around the world understands the basic concept, and more importantly it is an official sanctioned sport with national and regional championships contested annually and a World Championship contested in Japan most recently and has some pretty major sponsorships.




The official sport consists of two 7-person teams in a single match, and an Olympic tournament would be handled bracket style like all other team sports. The first ever official tournament goes back to 1989, close to 3 decades, its not new, and it would be gold on TV as its basically like capture the flag, a concept every young person in the world knows due to multiplayer video games like Call of Duty etc.



What do you think, do you have any sports you'd like to submit for the Winter Olympics?

Cubs Take Three of Four From Nationals

Two weeks ago, the Washington Nationals visited Wrigley Field and took two out three games from Chicago, making the Cubs struggle for a 3-2 victory in the second game before dropping the series in the rubber match. I wrote here about how the Cubs did their best to battle, but that they weren't quite ready to compete with the NL's best just yet.

However, last weekend was a totally different story, and maybe now they are ready to take on teams like Washington, after going to Nationals Park, completely outplaying the Nats, and winning three of the four games. This series was just what the Cubs needed after losing two of three in Miami, and the team is back to five games over .500 heading to Detroit for two games.

I also wrote last week about the possibility of Javier Baez making his return to Chicago's lineup in time to help fill the DH spot the team will have available in several upcoming series, starting tomorrow night against the Tigers. Unfortunately, Baez injured a finger yesterday and will reportedly miss 4-8 weeks. The kid just can't catch a break this year, despite putting up some of the best numbers of his professional career this year at AAA-Iowa (8 HRs, .314 AVG, .922 OPS).

Of course, many are speculating that Kyle Schwarber may get the call from AA-Tennessee, where he is currently hitting .324 with a 1.024 OPS. While I'd love to see Schwarber get the nod, I just don't know if that move is something we could expect to see from Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

The Cubs did receive an offensive boost yesterday when outfielder Chris Denorfia returned from the disabled list and collected three hits to bring his season average to .462 through 26 at bats.

But if the Cubs do call someone else up this week for some extra offense in AL parks, there are other options besides Schwarber. Below are three names we could see in a Chicago Cubs uniform soon:

1. Arismendy Alcantara - Alcantara made the team out of spring training, but managed only two hits in 26 at bats. At Iowa he has played 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and CF this year while hitting eight home runs, collecting 11 stolen bases, and having a .354 OBP. Joe Maddon would enjoy Alcantara's versatility, and he may get another shot soon.

2. Christian Villanueva - Villanueva was once considered to be one of the top prospects in the organization and a top-100 prospect in the league. He is only 23 years old (24 this month), despite currently playing in his seventh season. Like Baez, he is posting some of his best stats this year, hitting .285 with a .344 OBP. He has 12 walks and only 21 strike outs and can play both corner infield spots. I'd like to see Villanueva get a chance at some point this year.

3. Matt Szczur - Szczur went back to Iowa yesterday to make room for Denorfia, so he won't be back this week without some type of injury occurring. But he has had some clutch hits for the Cubs this year, and his numbers at Iowa are very good. With a .330 average and a .923 OPS, he'll get back to the majors this summer.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cubs Begin Road Trip with Series Loss in Miami

When Cubs ace Jon Lester was scheduled to pitch the series rubber match last night in Miami, fans had to like Chicago's chances. Lester pitched great in May, and the Marlins entered the game with a record of 21-32. Unfortunately, Lester allowed four runs in the second inning and was outpitched by Dan Haren. Starting the road trip 1-2, the Cubs now have a tough challenge ahead, stopping in Washington for four games before heading to Detroit for a couple.

Below are three thoughts as the Cubs prepare to face the Nationals.

1. The Cubs need more offensive production from the outfielders. I've been discussing left field all season so far; now, Dexter Fowler is having a little trouble, and Jorge Soler is on the DL. Adjustments need to be considered, and I think the team will do so. Against the Marlins, Soler, Fowler, and Chris Coghlan combined to hit 5-for-25. By comparison, Junior Lake, Mike Baxter, and Matt Szczur combined for six hits in only 13 at bats. I'm not saying those three should be starting every day together, but some kind of changes might need to be made. That being said...

2. When is Javier Baez coming? I think Baez is very close to making his return to Chicago, actually. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him on June 9th in Detroit, if not sooner. Baez has reestablished himself at AAA-Iowa, where he is currently hitting .325 with a .404 OBP and an OPS of .949. Those are some of the best numbers of his career.

Baez played 3B last night for the first time since the 2012 fall league, showing that the Cubs are trying to find a position for him. Kris Bryant's start in LF on Tuesday could be further proof that Baez is coming, and he may get his playing time at 3B.

At this point, if I'm going to watch Coghlan get on base at a .301 clip, then how is watching Javy Baez strike out any worse? And let's not even get started on Jonathan Herrera. (Tommy La Stella, where are you??)

With the DH spot available in Detroit, only the dreaded "service time" issue should be keeping Baez in the minors for more than another few days.

3. So then, how far away is Kyle Schwarber? The Cubs have a chance to win this year, and if the front office makes a full push by trading for a key player (Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist, etc), then the team should also consider getting Schwarber out of Tennessee ASAP. (Nothing against Tennessee!)  Imagine a lineup with Bryant, Addison Russell, Baez, AND Schwarber. That was a dream at the beginning of this season, and now we could see it later this summer.

Of course, there are other players waiting for a shot as well. Later this week, I'll look at a few players in the Cubs system who may be getting called up sooner or later as the team tries to save as much of Schwarber's service time as possible.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Vintage Base Ball Provides a Trip to the 1800s

On Sunday we went to a completely different world, and we didn't even have to leave Nashville. In fact, we were able to travel to 1864, thanks to the Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball, a league full of teams that play the game according to the rules used in the 19th century. Games are played throughout Tennessee, and Sunday's double header was played in downtown Nashville near the Tennessee State Capitol.

The league first started in 2012, and games are presented as reenactments or a living history. Uniforms, equipment, and style of play are all kept as close to the 1860s as possible. The 1864 edition of Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player is the league's official rule book, with some minor adjustments.

Spectators will immediately notice some differences between the game on the field and the game we typically watch today, including the following:

  • Pitches are tossed underhanded to the hitter.
  • Balls caught on one bounce are considered fly balls, and the batter is out. However, runners do not need to tag up on fly balls and may continue running the bases.
  • There is no stealing, but runners may take a lead of one "stride." Runners do not have the option of running through first base without being a live runner.
  • Each park has its own ground rules. Where we watched, Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, balls hit over the outfield walls, or fly balls hit into the ivy patches in front of the walls, are considered foul balls. (It's bad manners to hit it so far!) Like at Wrigley Field today, ground balls landing in the ivy are doubles.
  • The umpire stands near home plate, but most calls are made by the players, who have to come to an agreement. (We saw a ball land in the ivy, and the batter, assuming it was a foul ball, returned to the plate. The left fielder then called in that it was a double since it actually hit the ground before going into the ivy.)


Other games are played around Tennessee at museums, historic plantations, and other parks. The league, which originally contained only two teams, now has 10 clubs and a schedule that runs from April through September.

If you're not in Nashville, there are more than 400 teams around the country, so check around in your area. We had a lot of fun at the games and will definitely be attending more throughout the season and in future years.

Below are some pictures from our day. (Sorry for the cell phone quality!)

Our view from the first base line as the Stewart's Creek Scouts faced the Franklin Farriers.

Catching a high fly without a glove.
Ringing the bell at home plate after a score.

Shaking hands after the game.

We had a great first game, with the Scouts defeating the Farriers 11-10.

Phoenix of East Nashville warms up to play the next game.

Phoenix of East Nashville and the Nashville Maroons are introduced.

The league's bats are produced by the Smacker Bat Company in Murfreesboro, TN.

Our adopted team's banner.

The players use metal water coolers, and many drink from tin cups.

A Phoenix player selects a bat.

The white handkerchief in the fence signals that there is one out. The umpire places one in the fence for each out. Also, this female catcher was the only sign of diversity that we saw on this day, but the league's site says it is open to all players, "regardless of gender, age, or race."

A beautiful day in Nashville. The Maroons prevailed 10-3.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chicago Cubs: A Fair Trade for Cole Hamels

We are now in June, and as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, Cubs fans are anticipating a possible run at Phillies ace Cole Hamels. The two teams have been linked in trade rumors since last year, and now that the Cubs are competing and approaching "buyer" status for the first year in a while, a Hamels deal could finally be near.

Among fans, however, there has been much debate about what the Cubs should be willing to give up to get Hamels. Many fans believe this isn't the year for the Cubs, and instead of giving up talented prospects at the trade deadline, the team should instead land another free agent in the offseason and aim for the 2016 postseason.

I disagree. I think the time is now. I know the future is bright, and it could be that Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and others will only get better. If so, great. I'm all for a dynasty. But as a Saints fan, I also know that dynasties don't always happen. Players may get hurt. Players may have peaked. I don't know. For whatever reason, this could be the best chance to win, and the team should approach this as such an opportunity. And I think they will.

So aside from the players currently on the major league roster, who should the Cubs consider as "untouchable"? As much as I enjoy reading about the next batch of prospects and listening to minor league games on my phone just to hear future Cubs play, I think the answer is really simple. Only Kyle Schwarber should be off limits.

Now, it could be that the Phillies say they absolutely won't make a deal without Schwarber or even Russell coming to Philadelphia. That would be fine to say, and the Cubs did land Russell by trading away their own ace in Jeff Samardzija last year. In fact, if Russell and Billy McKinney were traded for Hamels, the team essentially would just be trading Samardzija for Hamels (especially considering Jason Hammel is back in a Cubs uniform this year).

However, if the Phillies do take that stand, it would likely be a deal breaker, and they'd have to move on to another team. Russell is no longer a prospect, and Schwarber is looking every bit like the next Kris Bryant. (And admittedly, we don't really even know what that means.)

Instead let's look at a realistic package. When the Cubs traded for Matt Garza in 2010, they sent five players to the Tampa Bay Rays to get an ace pitcher with a few years of control remaining. None of the players were the team's best prospects, but a few had significant upside. In the end, the Cubs were able to get decent value for Garza themselves by trading him at the end of his contract, while the Rays emerged with Chris Archer, now a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate. Neither team should have regrets about that trade.

There should be a way the Cubs and Phillies can come to an agreement that does not include Schwarber. I am only a fan, and no matter what I say here, many will disagree with me. But I believe the following players would create a fair package to trade to Philadelphia for Cole Hamels.

TWO of the following:

1. Carl Edwards Jr. - Ranked #2 on the team's prospect list on MLB.com, Edwards is the team's best pitching prospect. It makes sense to include him in this trade. Of course, the Cubs have moved Edwards to the bullpen this year in an effort to preserve his arm and possibly to get to Chicago sooner, and he recently moved to AAA-Iowa as a reliever. Eventually, however, he'll likely be in someone's rotation (remember, Samardzija came to Chicago as a reliever), so his time in the bullpen this year shouldn't be a concern. A possible replacement here would be Duane Underwood (MLB.com Cubs prospect #6).

2. Billy McKinney - McKinney (MLB.com Cubs prospect #7) is my personal favorite behind Schwarber. He is flying through the minor leagues and is currently playing well at AA-Tennessee. He walks almost as much as he strikes out, and he has a career OBP of .373. A possible replacement here would be Albert Almora (MLB.com Cubs prospect #4), which could give the Phillies two of the top four prospects from the league's most loaded organization.

3. Dan Vogelbach - Vogelbach (MLB.com Cubs prospect #14) is crushing AA pitching this year, hitting .320 with a .436 OBP. He'll move up the team's prospect list whenever new rankings are released, maybe sliding into the top five, but as a first baseman without a second position, he'll likely be traded at some point. His career OBP is .382, while his career OPS is .865.

PLUS:

1. A lower level pitching prospect. Possible players include: Paul Blackburn (Cubs prospect #25), Trevor Clifton (prospect #27), or Jeremy Null (prospect #29). Null, a 6'7" starter, is currently 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA at A-South Bend.

2. Tsuyoshi Wada OR Travis Wood - The Phillies may not want to take on the salary of either player, but if they're looking for a temporary fill-in for Hamel's rotation spot, the Cubs could give them either guy. Wood obviously has the experience, has been an All-Star in the past, and has pitched better lately since moving to the bullpen. Wada has more upside and has a career 4-4 record with a 3.07 ERA in his first 16 career starts.

In the end, if the Cubs pull off this deal, I'm sure I'll be OK with whatever the team has to give up. Adding another ace pitcher to this rotation may not stop the offense from striking out so much, but it'd definitely put the rotation near the best in the league.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cubs Kick Off Extended Road Trip in Miami

The Chicago Cubs pulled out a big win against the Kansas City Royals yesterday, thanks to David Ross's clutch hit in the 11th. It was a really tough homestand that started with the Washington Nationals, and the Cubs went 2-3 with a rain cancelation on Saturday. 

Going into the season, I knew the Cubs were behind the Cardinals and the Nationals, and this has proven to be true through May. However, with the team currently four games over .500, the Cubs are quickly getting to the point where they will compete with the NL's best.

Below are five thoughts as the Cubs begin a nine-game road trip in Miami tonight.

1. Let's get a blowout win. Before Friday (8-4 loss to Kansas City), the Cubs hadn't won or lost a game by more than three runs since a 6-1 victory over the Mets on May 12. Furthermore, the team played 16 games decided by one run in May. It'd be nice to break one open early again soon, and hopefully we'll see a couple of those against the Marlins.

2. What will happen with left field? I do think Junior Lake looks like a better player this year, and I don't think it's a coincidence that Coghlan is hitting better now that Lake is around to compete for time in the outfield. However, until Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, or anyone else is around, the team needs one of these guys to hit closer to .250 than .200. The inconsistency is frustrating, as both Lake and Coghlan show signs of being quality left fielders.

3. On a related note, Dexter Fowler's average is down to .235. He went 0-for-9 with five strikeouts against Kansas City. The Cubs are used to having center field questions, but this current streak is disappointing. I was hoping Fowler would be a guy the team would want to bring back next year, especially since it doesn't look like Albert Almora is knocking down the door any time soon. Of course, the formerly mentioned Zobrist rumors could be a possible remedy.

4. The bullpen seems to mostly be back on track. Cubs relievers NOT named Pedro Strop only allowed two earned runs last week. Of course now that I said that, we can probably expect a bad week. At the very least, it's exciting that Carl Edwards Jr. has been promoted to AAA. The less Brian Schlitter pitches, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Even in Iowa.

5. Let's beat the teams we're supposed to beat. The Marlins are starting this series at 20-31, and the Cubs need to take at least two of the three games in Miami. Heading to Washington for four and Detroit for two, the final six games of this trip will be difficult. Hopefully the shorts and painted toe nails will help!

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Five Favorite Chicago Cubs Prospects

The Cubs just wrapped up a 3-3 road trip, which looked a lot better than the previous trip that saw the team go 2-5. Entering a homestand against two great teams in the Nationals and Royals, so far it seems the Cubs are here to stay this year and should finally at least be in contention for the postseason again.

Since it looks like the Cubs may actually be buyers at the trade deadline this year, we can expect the Cole Hamels rumors to be in full swing within the next few weeks. I am fully in support of a move to acquire Hamels this year, knowing that the organization will have to give up prospects to do so.

Later this week, I'll discuss what I think would be a fair trade for Hamels. First, however, I thought I should note where I rank the prospects and which ones I'm most anticipating to arrive in Chicago.

This is not a prospect ranking list based on skill sets (you can find tons of those on other sites) or even value within the organization, as I know some prospects will bring back more trade value than others. This list is simply my favorite Cubs prospects as of May 2015.

One last note is that Javy Baez is technically no longer a prospect, so I'm leaving him off. However, since he's finally heating up, I think the Cubs will need to find a spot for him in Chicago or possibly even trade him this summer.

Below are my current five favorite Cubs prospects:

1. Kyle Schwarber - Schwarber has to top just about any Cubs prospect list at this point. His minor league numbers compared to Kris Bryant's through this point in their careers only gives weight to the expectation that Schwarber could very well be the "next" Bryant, going from draft to the middle of the Cubs lineup in no time. While next April would put him exactly a year behind Bryant, recent reports have alluded that the Cubs may entertain promoting Schwarber this season if that option could help the team. To me, Schwarber has to be the only prospect who is an untouchable. If he remains at catcher, he's only that much more valuable.

2. Billy McKinney - I've already talked about McKinney's great walk-to-strike out ratio, and I think he's clearly the best true outfield prospect in the organization right now. That being said, I think any team sending anything of value to the Cubs will have to be getting a package featuring McKinney in return.

3. Gleyber Torres - Just what we need, right? Another awesome shortstop. I don't know how it will all work out, getting all of these guys in the same lineup, and I assume that ultimately it won't. But I'm really excited about Torres, and if Starlin Castro remains with the Cubs (which I hope he does!), this will become an issue to monitor at some point.

4. Duane Underwood - You love to see pitchers improving each season in the minors, and that's exactly what Underwood is doing. In his first year at high-A, Underwood is 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA so far. He finished last season with a 2.50 ERA through 22 games at A-Kane County. I'm hoping to see him get to AA-Tennessee this year (and that I can see him pitch there).

5. Dan Vogelbach - Vogelbach may have the most trade value (after Schwarber), and he is having a great season at Tennessee. With 32 walks and 38 strike outs, he seems to be a perfect fit for the Cubs organization. Unfortunately, with Anthony Rizzo blocking him in Chicago, Vogelbach's days as a Cubs prospect may be numbered. I don't know if I'm convinced that his skills will translate into Major League success, but that's bound to be another team's problem anyway.

Honorable Mention:

- I think Carson Sands will be a top of the rotation starter.

- I am fully rooting for Albert Almora and Jacob Hanemann, but even if both come through as Major League players, it's plausible that only one plays in Chicago.

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