October 20, 2016


At the beginning of the season, I thought the most important Cub player in 2016 was going to be Kyle Schwarber.

But when Schwarber got injured in the outfield early in the season, the Cubs continued to bulldoze opponents with long winning streaks. To replace Schwarber's bat, Maddon relied upon more young talent: Baez and Contreras, who now appears to be the starting catcher in 2017.

When the Cubs dropped two games to the Dodgers in the NLCS, it was the lack of offense.

It made many think of the missing Schwarber bat. He only hit .143 in the Mets series in 2015, but for the entire playoff run he hit .333 BA, 5 HR, 8 RBI. He was the spark in the line up because he had consistent hard contact.

Opponents, especially good ones, can dissect a line up card to pin point who can hurt them, who to pitch around, and who to attack. There are still many holes in the Cub line up: Zobrist, Heyward, Russell, Montero may have a singular moment, but have been consistently off.  With half a line up not a threat, that puts more pressure on the stars. Rizzo felt the pressure and tried to do too much. It was only after shattering his bat did he get back into the groove in the Game 4 10-2 blow-out.

But Game 4 spark was created by the defense. Contreras pick off and Heyward's throw to nip Gonzalez at home plate gave the Cubs the old, in season memories of being a great team. 

Now that hitting has come back, and the pitching staff has been consistent, now is the time to run the table and clinch the pennant on Saturday night.

October 17, 2016


Having predicted before the NLCS the Cubs in 6, I am not worried about the 1-0 Sunday night loss to the Dodgers.

More bothersome is the growing trend of the Tinkerer, Joe Maddon.

He is managing differently than he did in the regular season. A regular season with 103 wins. A regular season that had the Cubs winning the Dodger head to head series.

Playing Heyward in right against Kershaw was just another headscratcher to fans. Heyward had been terrible against Kershaw. The Cubs need offense. The move would have been to play Soler or Almora in right, the latter giving the Cubs a good defensive option.

Defense was not a premium last night because both Kershaw and Hendricks pitched gems. Hendricks gave up less than his league leading ERA, on a quality pitch away that Adrian Gonzalez hit to the opposite field for a homer.

You still need to score one run to win a ball game. The Cubs did not do so. The Cubs failed to even try to manufacture a run, or put pressure on the Dodgers defense. Willson Contreras' first at bat was baffling - - - he did not take the bat off his shoulder for the first two pitches, and weakly walked back to the bench after the K.

The Cubs are still the better team. Chicago has better depth in pitching, hitting and defense.

But the pressure is getting to some players. Rizzo inferred that he is trying to hit 5 run HRs during his slump. His long foul ball out of the park yielded one walk during the evening. Fowler has not been setting up the line up and Bryant is looking at too many close pitches. The 3-4-5 hitters are collectively batting .100.

The Cubs cannot play down to their weaknesses and expect to win games against the Dodgers.

October 14, 2016


The biggest number revealed this off season: $17.2 million.

That is the estimated qualifying offer number.

It is a $1.4 million increase from last off-season.

Within five days of the World Series conclusion, teams must make a qualifying offer to their pending free agents in order to secure a potential first round pick if their players declines it.

Player agents hate the qualifying offer rules. It actually limits the market for free agents with that tag as most teams do not want to give up a first round pick to sign a high price veteran.

But this may be the last year for the qualifying offer as the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 2, 2016.

But then again, no free agent actually accepted a qualifying offer until last season. It seems that the number has grow so high that it tends to be market value, even though it is for a one year deal, of a normal free agent.  But free agents are more concerned today with the years on the contract (the guaranteed money) as a hedge against injury. It is expected that the qualifying offer rules will be a sticking point in the next union contract.

The procedure was put in place to help small market teams who would develop star players only to have them leave after 6 years for free agency. The small market team got nothing in return for developing the games best players. So, the league decided to compensate any team for a loss of a free agent with a draft pick. But at the same time, it also penalized a team for taking the player by losing a draft pick. The idea was to forge some kind of competitive balance between the clubs.

But with the large national television deals and new revenue sources, most small market teams such as Kansas City have found ways to keep their home grown talent. The Royals have been competitive. The Royals have a championship. But just as KC has found a way to work within the system, there are other teams like the Brewers who continue to tread water.

October 12, 2016



The Cubs were down 3 runs in the 9th but came back in New Cub style by taking pitches, putting the ball in play and playing stellar defense.

This season the Cubs were best offensively when they keep the order moving in an inning by "earning" walks, clutch hitting and good base running. By adding to a starter's pitch count early, the Cubs would wait for their pitches to hit.

In the playoffs, the pressure and competition level increases. For the first three games of the Giants series, it was the #9 pitcher spot that was most productive with 6 RBI. But Rizzo broke an 0-13 slump to get on base 3 times last night as a redemptive spark to the heart of the order.

Chapman also redeemed himself by mowing down the Giants in order in the bottom of the 9th. He just threw 102 mph fastballs past them.

But the most remarkable thing about this series was that the young players, Contreras, Baez and Almora, seem to thrive on the big stage. Each contributed on both offense and defense. Baez made his own highlight reel during the series.

The Cubs showed that they can claw back from any deficit. That is the great thing about baseball. You have 27 outs. The game is never over until the last out is recorded. So there is always a sliver of hope.

In the post game celebration, Maddon admitted that he did not want to have to deal with a Game 5 situation. He managed to win it last night. He may not believe in the doom of the curse, but he tends to manage against it. His moves last night were better than Game 3.

The expectation and hope increases in the NLCS. The Cubs appear to be ready to meet that challenge.

October 11, 2016


MadBum had a bad arm last night. The Cubs radio team saw it immediately in the first inning when Bumgarner only threw two fastballs.  At that point the Cubs had an advantage; batters could work the soft counts and increase the Giant's ace pitch count. It worked. Bumgarner was out of the game in the 5th.

Jake Arrieta was better than lowered expectations, especially when he hit a 3 -run homer to give the Cubs a large, early lead.

In an elimination game, you should not change what was working in the past. But Joe Maddon wanted to juggle and tinker the entire game. It showed the flaws in the Cub team.

Mike Montgomery threw 4 good relief innings, because he had to. Maddon had used everyone in the pen except C.J. Edwards.

Maddon burned through Wood, Rondon, Chapman and Grimm in the 8th inning. 

The bullpen situation unraveled in the 8th when Maddon called upon Chapman to do something he told Joe in the regular season he was uncomfortable in doing: the multiple inning save. Chapman gave up the lead in the bottom of the 8th; the staff getting torched for 3 runs.

For some reason, Maddon panicked in the 8th, thinking that he had to win the series then and now. 

But Kris Bryant hit a homer to tie the game in the 9th. This lead to a long, extra inning game with the Cubs short on bullets.

Montgomery was the only long reliever left in the pen. Some may say that was a roster mistake knowing that the Giants-Cubs play tight games. Further complicating the matter was Kyle Hendricks short start because of the line drive off the forearm. The keeping of only 11 pitchers may not be the critical issue unless you believe Cahill was a better choice than Coghlan. But Cahill would have given Maddon more relief innings than Grimm.

Montgomery gets the loss in the scorecard, but the loss really falls on the manager and how he used his roster during the game.

Now, after a long night game, the Cubs have to come back and regroup after giving the Giants the momentum and confidence to come back. The pressure is really on the Cubs tonight. And the team acquired John Lackey for his big playoff game experience.

October 6, 2016


I was sitting in a bar talking to friends. The Mets-Giants game was on in the background. A nervous Cub fan wanted the Mets to win the wild card so it would be easier for the Cubs in the NLDS.

The Mets have lost two starters to the DL.

The Giants have playoff demigod, Madison Bumgarner.

So when an ex-White Sox player hits a 3 run HR in the top of the 9th in a scoreless pitchers duel, the anxiety of a Cub fan begins to emerge.

However, being the voice of calming reason, I said "it does not matter who the Cubs play. The Cubs are going to steamroll to the championship."

Last year's playoff run was unexpected. I went along for the ride.

This year's playoff run was expected. The team did not have any significant pitching injuries. The team has balanced veteran presence and young players  maturing into All-Stars. This year I expect a championship. And so do the Cub players.

Jake Arrieta should have a massive mean chip on his shoulder when he squares off against Bumgarner in Game 2 in SF.

John Lackey will follow Arrieta with his own brand of teeth grinding contempt.

The Cubs won the season series 4-3.  The Giants have an uncanny ability to play better than their roster on paper.

There are few analysts who believe that due to the playoff format, the Cubs are at a disadvantage in the NLDS. They believe the long layoff of five days is a major rust factor for the Cubs, the #1 seed. Second, the wild card victor has momentum on their side. Third, the best of five series favors the visiting team if they can take one of the first two games on the road. The pressure is on the home team Cubs to sweep the first two games.

But the series will come down to starting pitching match-ups.

Cueto vs. Lester is probably a draw.
Moore vs. Hendricks is advantage Cubs.
Bumgarner vs. Arrieta would be a toss up if Jake shows up as the 2015 Arrieta.
Samardzija vs. Lackey is advantage Cubs if Lackey can throw strikes and not be squeezed by the home plate umpire.

The Cubs have a 75 percent chance to win the NLDS. One would expect a 3-1 series win.

October 3, 2016


Robin Ventura is not going to manage the White Sox in 2017.

Some may say good riddance. Others may still question the organization which put Ventura, who never managed at any level, in charge of a major league team.

Under Ventura’s leadership, the White Sox went 375-434 (.463) which included a second-place finish in 2012 followed by a fifth-place finish and three fourth-place finishes. The White Sox have now gone eight seasons without making the postseason.

Ricky Renteria, the current bench coach, is presumed to be promoted to manager. He was the short term Cub manager until the Cubs swooped in on Joe Maddon.

Renteria had been a coach in the Padres’ organization since 2003 and was promoted to bench coach in 2011. He left after the 2013 season. Renteria has one year of managing under his belt, leading the Cubs to a 73-89 fifth-place finish in 2014.

The first issue with the Renteria promotion is that it does not change the White Sox culture or structure. Renteria is like Ventura, not a guy will a dynamic personality. The coaching staff will remain pretty much the same - - - which may not motivate the players to play better.

The second issue is that the management of the Sox does not change. There is a conflict between chairman Reinsdorf's desires, President Kenny Williams retooling philosophy and GM Rick Hahn want to rebuild. Ownership wants to win now. The press thought the White Sox "won" the last two off-seasons with their roster moves, but the players woefully underperformed.

Until the management gets on the same page, the team will continue to struggle.

The third issue is why not have a full managerial search? Renteria may be a nice buy, speaks Spanish to Latin players, and a baseball lifer. But is he the right person for this job?  In San Diego, his forte was helping develop young players. The White Sox roster is besieged with veterans.

The White Sox strength is that the minor league system is filled with quality pitchers. The weakness of the White Sox is that the minor league system is devoid of hitting talent and positional players. This leads to a muddy middle of the road team in a weak division.