October 31, 2015


This is a scary thought for some Cub fans: somebody has to go.

If the Mets series taught us anything is that the Cubs young team still has a lot of holes to fill.

One commentator said the Cubs are playing three designated hitters. Others acknowledge that Arrieta had a career year which is not repeatable in 2016.

Half of the bullpen needs to be rebuilt. The starting rotation still only has two consistent, reliable starters. Montero has turned into a hurricane fan strike out machine.

There is no real help coming from AAA next year. And realistically, the Cubs are not going to spend a lot of money on free agency.

That leaves the trade market.

Smart general managers always trade players just before they start a downward cycle of performance. It is always best to sell high and buy low.

The players that have the most current value on the trade market are:

1. Arrieta. A Cy Young season with two more years of arbitration control makes a staff ace a bargain to teams who don't or who can't spend $22 million/year for a Price, Greinke or Zimmerman. Arrieta may be too good of a bargain to part with, but he could bring in four or five players in a deal to the right club (a major leaguer, two major league ready (pitching) prospects, and two or three low minor high upside players). The haul in players may be more beneficial in the long run than keeping Arrieta for only two more years. (The front office acknowledges that the championship window now is only two years because Arrieta will leave for FA after 2017.)

2. Soler. He had the national spotlight in the off-season and he performed well above his season numbers. In 25 PA, he hit .474, 3 HR, 5 RBI, .600 OBP and 1.105 SLG. He is only 23 years old. He is signed at a reasonable contract ($3.87 million to $4.67 million per year through 2020, with a 2018 opt out clause). A team looking for a right fielder or DH could give the Cubs a very major league/prospect package like an Arrieta deal.

3. Schwarber. He may be the best pure hitter on the Cubs. His short, explosive swing caught the attention of other teams. His outfield defense was troublesome, but he has the skills to be a catcher - - - a commodity in short supply in the majors. Schwarber wants to catch, and during his minor league career he did quite well at both catching and hitting. Some players need to play in the field, be in the action, in order to concentrate more at the plate. Maybe Schwarber is one of those types of players (he is involved in the game even when in the dugout). Major league teams have a shortage of young power hitters so Schwarber is a very valuable trade chip. But because he is young and without much major league experience, his value is more based on potential than actual stats. However, he could probably get a team's number one pitching prospect and several minor league utility players in a deal.

4. Castro. He does not have the most trade value from a team standpoint, but his September batting makes his personal trade value the highest since last off-season when Jeter retired from the Yankees. He can play both middle infield positions. He took his demotion in stride which shows other teams that he is a team player. He has matured so he could be a leader in a clubhouse filled with young Latin players. Teams looking to fill an infield hole with a former All-Star player who could benefit from a change of scenery would like those attributes in Castro. Castro could pull a two for one deal with an eager club.

5. T. Wood. Middle relievers are a dime a dozen, but Wood showed the value in being the best long man on the Cubs staff. Wood was so impressive this year that he said that he would be working to return to a starting role in 2016. A clever general manager would realize that he could obtain a reliable starter who now has command of a fastball for the price of a middle reliever. In return, the Cubs could ask for multiple young low minor league arms to develop.

One of the "loopholes" Epstein-Hoyer used since they arrived in Chicago is the principle of the value of bigger numbers. The more players one acquires the better the chances that one player out of the group will succeed. So far, the Cubs have drafted 43 pitchers and none of them are even close to contributing at the major league level. So instead of drafting, trading for multiple players hoping to find a better player or two than what you give up is the next tool (the Samardzija-Hammel trade to Oakland for example.)

Cub fans should look at the above list and make a simple yes or no acknowledgement to the question "could you live with giving up Arrieta, Soler, Schwarber, Castro and Wood if the Cubs got in return for 14 or more players, including three or four best pitching prospects in the major leagues?"

That is the same question the Cubs front office will ponder in the next few weeks going into the Winter Meetings in December. It would seem so, since the team is quietly trying to clear space on its 40 man roster.

October 29, 2015


David Price could have cost himself around $20 million for his weak post season performance.

It is not that he is a different pitcher, per se, in the post season.

The reason could be that post season opponents scout their opponent more closely.

During the regular season, scouting departments are charged with scouting the minors, the majors, their upcoming opponents, checking out talent to sign during the next draft or international scouting period, and some self-scout their own team for comparison purposes and trade value.

But once the post season rolls around, it is all hands-on-deck to get useful stats and materials to the manager.

The Royals admit that they found out that Price was tipping his change up, enough times the Royals hitters could handle it.

As recounted in SI, when pitching from the stretch when he threw a changeup, Price would take an extra deep breath, one where you could see his shoulders shrug, and he would hold his set a beat longer. It appeared to me the Royals knew the changeup was coming when Price was in the stretch. Royals sources confirmed it: Price tipped his changeup—maybe not 100% of the time, but enough for Kansas City to buy in.

There had been rumors about Price tipping his pitches when he faced Texas in the Division Series. A Toronto source told me then that such rumors sometimes pop up, and that the Blue Jays heard that Price had been tipping his pitchers earlier this season when he was pitching for Detroit, but “we looked into it and didn’t see anything.”

A pitcher has the advantage on the mound. He knows what he is going to throw and where he wants to throw the ball. The batter is guessing. Most batters try to time the pitcher's fastball, and work back from that speed. But since it only takes a fraction of a second to determine if it is a fastball, cutter or change up, batters have to project the count and situation in order to make solid contact. If a pitcher is tipping off his pitches, then the advantage swings toward the batter.

October 28, 2015


The White Sox made a move for a reclamation pitcher that normally the Cubs grab on to . . . and in this case, had on their roster.

MLBTR reported that:
The White Sox have claimed right-hander Jacob Turner off waivers from the Cubs, according to the club’s transactions page at MLB.com. Turner, 24, didn’t pitch in the Majors this season, spending most of the year on the 60-day disabled list due to  a strained right flexor tendon and right shoulder inflammation.

Turner, who was considered a top-30 prospect for a few years running, received steady MLB work after the Tigers  traded him to Miami as the centerpiece in the trade package that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante  to Detroit. He posted a 3.74 ERA over 118 innings in 2013, which is pretty good for a 22-year-old, even with unconvincing peripherals.

Then the wheels came off the following year -- a 5.98 ERA and a .328/.371/.480. Turner was out of options so he was traded in a minor league deal to the Cubs in August of 2014. But Turner pitched even worse for the Cubs for 34 innings over the remainder of 2014, then missed almost all of 2015 with the aforementioned injuries. 

Turner has never had the eye popping performance with the Cubs to even get a whiff that he could be the next Jake Arrieta turnaround story. Chris Bosio is like Don Cooper, pitcher whisperers, who get the most out of cast-off pitchers. But there is no current body of work that shows that Turner is a salvageable or serviceable starting pitcher. 

Turner, 24 years old, is a "low-risk-high-reward" move for the White Sox. The Sox have a strong starting rotation, but no starter depth in the minors.  Erik Johnson will get a chance at the fifth rotation spot behind lefties Sale, Quintana, Rodon, and Danks.

Whether Turner will get the chance is an open question. First, the White Sox will have to protect him offseason of 40-man roster churn (or an outrighting, which the Sox prevented the Cubs from doing here by making a waiver claim). After that, since Turner is out of options, the Sox will need to keep him on the 25-man roster or risk losing him through waivers should they want to get him to Charlotte.

October 27, 2015


This is from Baseball Reference Cot's contacts for the 2016 Cubs.

There are 31 players highlighted on the payroll spreadsheet that are under team control for 2016.

Seven veterans have signed contracts worth $67.36 million.
17 players are at the major league minimum contract value, or approximately together $8.8 milllion.
3 players are in first year arbitration: Turner ($1 million), Rondon and Grimm. Rondon and Grimm will get well above the minimum so this class could be valued at $6 million.
1 player, Arrieta, is at second year arbitration. He made $3.7 million last season. He will have a major bump up to at least $9 million.
3 players are in final year of arbitration: Wood ($5.7 million), Strop ($2.5 million) and Coghlan ($2.5 million). Whether you pay to keep them or to replace them, this group is probably worth $14.5 million.

 Payroll for these players is projected at $105.66 million. The 2015 payroll was $120.5 million, so based on past budgets, the front office does not have much money to spend on the 9 players to round out the 40 man roster. With a 10% increase in payroll budget, the 2016 Cubs have $132.55 million to spend or $26.89 million or only $2.98 million per free agent player.

This is why the thought of adding a $20 million ace starter like Price, Zimmerman or Greinke does not make the math work, leaving $6.89 million for 8 players is $861,000 per free agent player, which limits the crop to replacement player value journeymen or AAAA players.

The cast for the rotation: Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, Hendricks, Turner, Jokisch, Beeler.
The team has the same problem that plagued them in late September and the playoffs, the lack of quality #3, #4 and #5 starters.

The casting call the bullpen: Cahill, Wood, Rondon, Strop, Grimm, Medina, Ramirez, Edwards, Rosscup.
The team has the same problem that plagued them at the end of the year, inconsistent bridge relievers to the closer.

But pitching was only one part of the post season woes. The Cubs bats were silenced by the Mets because the young core has not been able to adjust to breaking balls. A veteran presence in the middle of the line up is critical. But the most urgent need is to have a true lead off man to take Fowler's place.

Under contract now, candidates to lead off include: Coghlan, Alcantara, Castro. None of them are very good choices. When someone trial balloons moving Bryant to CF to allow Baez to take third, everyone realizes what a terrible defensive arrangement in the outfield would be with Schwarber and Soler.

With sky high expectations and a long post season run, the business side of the Cubs will think that the 2016 season tickets will be flying off the shelf so there will be no good reason to go out and spend a lot of money on free agency. That may be a true assessment, since the energized fan base is enamored with the current young hitters to pay attention to the fine details of building a deep roster.

October 25, 2015


Well, let's see what the Cubs need for 2016.
It is a lot. More than most people realize.

It is actually easier to write down which players
should stay:

SP Lester
SP Arrieta
SP Hendricks
RP Rondon
RP Strop
RP Wood

LF Schwarber
RF Soler
3B Bryant
SS Russell
2B Castro
1B Rizzo
C Montero
C Ross
IF Baez

That means the Cubs need to improve 10 or 25 roster spots (40% turnover of the roster)
LaStella, Denorfia, Jackson, Berry and Coghlan are not long term answers to anything.

Almora, McKinney and Alcantara are not viable options in 2016.

Yes, there will be some injured or tired arms filling up the pen with possibly Ramirez, Edwards, Jokich and Medina, but those guys were non factors down the stretch. There are really no quality above replacement value pitchers in the minors.

Despite the surprising success in 2015, the Cubs cannot rest on past laurels. There is a great deal of work to do to repeat this season next year. 

And there is no guarantee in repeating this year's success. Most teams that have been swept in a post season series do not get back to the playoffs the next year. The rate of return is anywhere from 4 to 15 years.

In addition, even championship teams like the 2005 White Sox, quickly fade away. The next year, the team finished third, the next fourth.

The Mets series did shine light on some serious flaws in the Cubs roster.  There are many "hitters" that have been drafted by the Cubs. But most are playing out of position. A few, some say, are really DHs because of their defensive liabilities. Schwarber may not be a major league catcher in the minds of the front office, but he is also not a left fielder. Soler also has significant trouble picking up line drives and taking routes to catch balls in the gap. Bryant double clutches too much to be a consistent third baseman.   A few could conclude that the players were "trying to make plays" instead of the game coming to them.

Granted, part of the problem was the pressure of big moment. Whether they can overcome the post season jitters is an open question. But the other problem is that many of the Cub position players are playing out of their natural position. Drafting athletes is one thing, but making them into super utility guys because you manager likes a lot of moving parts, is counterproductive. 

The poor defense is a real problem when you don't have lock down pitchers.  

And a slightly less concern is that the two main aces of the staff, Lester and Arrieta, did not have great post season games. Lester did not win one. Arrieta looked tired and fizzled at the end. No one believes that Arrieta's great second half is going to carry over for a full 2016 season. There will be some reversion to his baseball card stats. That will put more pressure on players playing outside their natural positions.

The front office cannot sit back on their laurels and bring back this same team. As the Mets have shown, the young Cub hitters cannot hit breaking secondary pitches with any consistency. Living and dying by the three run home run worked with Earl Weaver's Orioles, but he had three Cy Young caliber starters on his roster. 

October 21, 2015


There are measuring posts throughout everyone's life.

Milestones and millstones where one can take stock.

Tuesday night was one of those moments.

Just as the Chicago Bulls had to defeat their nemesis, the Pistons;
Just as the Blackhawks had to defeat their bitter rival, the Red Wings,
the Cubs have to learn to win in the post season when the pressure is at its peak.

“We haven’t played our best baseball and they’ve pitched really well,” Theo Epstein said to a throng of reporters after the 5-2 defeat.

Down 3-0 in a series is a death sentence. Only one team, the 2004 Red Sox have come back from that sinkhole.  Some people may think there is still hope, but when the skies opened up with rain in the last inning, it was a signal that the heavenly water would mask the tears of the fans in the stands.

Mental errors by the Cubs outnumbered the physical errors by 10 to 1.

Joe Maddon was out-managed by Terry Collins.

The Mets pitching has been far superior. They realized that throwing fastballs to the Cubs was a recipe for disaster. So it was an overload of secondary pitches, which the Cub hitters failed to adjust to in the first three games.

The Cubs pitching looks gassed from a long season. A piece meal bullpen has now started to crack. The Mets continued to put pressure on the base paths causing the Cubs defenders to make mistakes. The Mets manufactured runs while the Cubs were passively waiting to hit home runs.

One would have hoped that the Cub players would have gotten better as as series progressed, but the "cold" start continued through last night's game. Tonight, with Hammel on the mound with a shorter leash than Hendricks, it will be another "bullpen" game which shows how far behind the Cubs are from the Mets, who will throw another very good rookie starter, Steven Matz, in Game 4.

The Mets are poised to make deep runs for the next several years. They have been compared to the Atlanta Braves who had a stellar pitching staff of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Starting pitching is the hardest asset to develop or find. That is why star starters are commanding $20 million per season.

The Cubs must now know that the axiom that good pitching defeats good hitting has merit. The Cubs need two or three more quality starters in order to compete with the Cardinals and Pirates. The free agent market has many quality pitchers, but the price tag may be too high to snare a Greinke, Price or Zimmerman.

The Cubs also have to learn that next season the expectations are going to be sky high. They also must realize that teams of destiny, like the Nationals the past few seasons, don't mean anything if you cannot perform under the pressure of the limelight.

The Cubs exceeded everyone's expectations this season, including the front office. But 2016 seems to be the year that the promise of hope is erased with the expectation of a championship or bust. The Cubs do not have the pitching in the minor leagues to fill in the huge holes in the rotation. The Cubs need more consistency from the #3 and 4 starters. Also, the bullpen will have to be rebuilt. The Cubs still need more consistent hitters in the lineup so as not to rely on home run or bust. The team cannot rely on the "core" of Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber to create the offense. Fowler will be gone in free agency so the team has a major hole at lead off to fill.

It was good and surprising season for the Cubs. Bonus baseball was great.
2016 is the real turning point for the franchise.

October 19, 2015


When you use your only two bullets, and miss, it is tough to win the gunfight.

The Cubs used their best two regular season pitchers, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, against the Mets in the NLCS and the team lost both games.

Now, the series returns to Wrigley with uncertain Cubs starting pitching coming to the forefront.

Neither Kyle Hendricks or Jason Hammel have pitched well enough to earn Joe Maddon's trust. In the post season, Hendricks has allowed three runs over 4 2/3 innings, and he was pulled early despite the fact the Cubs had scored six runs behind him. Hammel found himself in a similar situation, departing after allowing two runs over three innings in Game 4 of the NLDS. 

Maddon has been using "bullpen days" since the end of the season. But bullpen relievers are really failed starters (Wood, Cahill, Richard, etc.) Maddon has every starter except Lester and Arrieta on a short leash. Some say Maddon kept Lester and Arrieta in their NLCS games too long. 

Since Game 3 is really "do or die" for the series, Maddon has to risk burning his bullpen to the ground to get a win.  Part of the problem with the current roster is that for some dumb reason, Addison Russell was replaced with Quintin Berry, a pinch runner, when the team knew pitching was an issue. Dan Haren should have been added to the roster to either pitch Game 4 of the series, or be available to take long relief if Hendricks or Hammel stinks up early in their starts. This roster move could haunt the team history worst than any non-game fan curse.

Maddon is also really relying heavily on T. Wood and Cahill in middle relief. Their innings are higher than the rest of the bullpen combined. 

Things would be different if the young Cubs hitters would actually hit. But the Mets invested heavily on quality starting pitchers, and the old axiom is holding true that "great pitching takes care of great hitting" in the playoffs.

October 17, 2015


The NLCS comes down to two teams that built their core two different ways.

The Mets have drafted and developed pitchers as a priority.

The Cubs have drafted and developed hitters as a priority.

The Mets used free agency and trades to acquire bats to compliment their young pitching staff.

The Cubs used free agency and trades to acquire arms to compliment their young hitters.

It now seems that both philosophies have merit.

If one looks at the Mets young core of pitchers, we find:

DeGrom 4.7 WAR, 14-8, 2.59 ERA, 0.970 WHIP
Syndergaard 2.1 WAR, 9-7, 3.24 ERA, 1.047 WHIP
Matz (only 6 GP) 1.2 WAR, 4-0, 2.27 ERA, 1.234 WHIP
Harvey 5.2 WAR, 13-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.019 WHIP

These four young starters combined for a collective 13.2 WAR and 30 wins of the team's 90 (33.3%).

If one looks at the Cubs young core of hitters, we find:
Bryant 5.9 WAR, .275 BA, 26 HR, 99 RBI
Russell 3.3 WAR, .242 BA, 13 HR, 54 RBI
Schwarber 1.7 WAR, .246 BA, 16 HR, 43 RBI
Rizzo 6.2 WAR, .278 BA, 31 HR, 101 RBI

These four young hitters combined for a collective 17.1 WAR and 302 RBI of the team's 657 (49.6%).

As you can tell, these eight players are the keys to the NLCS. One team will (for at least this season) validate their rebuild plan with a trip to the World Series.

October 16, 2015


Daniel Murphy displayed rare high level baseball IQ in the deciding playoff game against the Dodgers.

With a huge infield shift on, Murphy was on first base with one out. The batter walked, and Murphy started to jog to second, then turned on the gas as he got to the bag since no one was covering third base!

He stole third base from first on an out!

It is such a mindboggling play that rarely happens.

Murphy recognized the situation, and knew the rule that the ball was still live to rush to third base. The Dodgers were caught flat footed on a defensive play. One would think either the shortstop or the pitcher should have moved toward third base to stop Murphy from advancing to third.

But the runner's heads' up play  put him on third base which was the deciding play of the game. The next batter hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field so Murphy scored to tie the game.

Later, Murphy hit the game winning home run.

There is more pressure on players in the post season because there is more at stake, more viewers, and bigger plays because of the stage. Murphy met all those pressures and performed well above average, which gave his team the victory.

October 13, 2015


The baseball world is still buzzing about last night's explosive action.

The Cubs set a major league record for hitting six home runs in a playoff game.

But more puzzling, confusing and odd was the Blue Jays using starter David Price in relief in last night's game in Texas. The Jays were down 2-1 in the series so it was a "must win."

The Jays rocketed in the first to a 3-0 lead over the Rangers. R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner when he won 20 games for the Mets, allowed only one run over 4 2/3 innings and was pulled with a 7-1 lead, with a runner on base. Shin Soo Choo, who already with two hits, was coming to the plate.

"It was hard for me to do, but I thought that was the best way to win the game, keep them from coming back," Jays manager Gibbons said. "Probably not a relationship-building move, but a team win, that's what I was looking for."

Price needed only one pitch to retire Choo to end the fifth, and went three innings to get the win after losing in the series opener.  However, Price gave up 3 earned runs over his three innings of work.

Everyone expected the 6'5" All Star pitcher Price to start Game 5 in Toronto. Instead, the Jays will got with their home grown 5'9" spark plug, Marcus Stroman. 

A few national media members think that using Price in Game 4 relief (he threw 50 pitches) eliminated the debate on who would start Game 5. It was a calculated move by the Blue Jays to NOT have Price available to start in Toronto. Even though Price has had less than stellar post season record, just like Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, on the surface starting Price gives the Jays the best chance to win the game, right?

Apparently management thinks otherwise. And that is probably a bitter pill for Price to swallow this off-season. It will not hurt his value as Price is the best AL pitcher in the regular season. It is just that owners pay $200 million for ace starters who can dominate in the postseason like Madison Bumgartner. 

But the Jays traded a lot of talent to get Price from Detroit prior to the trade deadline.

The Jays took the story line of redemption out of Price's hands and put the fate of the season on a young hurler. Stroman only started 4 games this year, going 4-0, 1.67 ERA in 27 IP with a 0.963 WHIP for a 1.2 WAR. 

It would seem that the Jays do not expect to sign Price in the off-season so it makes some sense to battle test the pitchers who will be around in the 2016 pennant run.

October 12, 2015


If you thought the Jake Arrieta-Garrett Cole match up was going to be epic, think again.

In Pittsburgh, without his best stuff, Arrieta took the one game, Game 7 vibe, to a victory over the Pirates.

Today, on paper, is a better pitching duel. Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38 ERA).

However, Wacha has been scuffing in September with a bloated ERA. The Cardinals began resting their starters once they clinched a playoff berth, but the rest has not helped them. 

The Cardinals believed they "gifted" Game 2 to the Cubs so they may be a little bitter and more motivated tonight. However, the errors caused by the Cardinals were made because of the intense pressure applied by the Cubs hitters and runners. The Cubs have to continue to put pressure on the Cardinals defense.

Wrigley Field will be a madhouse tonight. Ticket prices are soaring; box seats are being asked in the secondary market for $8,300.00, standing room $150.00. 

Since this is Columbus Day, a semi-bank holiday, the fans will be out to Wrigleyville drinking early and often. The crowd will be louder than St. Louis.

The forecast is for a breezy night - - - 14 mph winds blowing out to right field. How the right field scoreboard effects the wind will be on display tonight.

Maddon has a choice to make: Schwarber or Soler, both hot hitters. The solution would be to play both of them, then substitute defense later in the game. If Wacha is off, the Cubs need to score early and often. Otherwise, it could be nail biter.

The one thing that can be counted on is Arrieta. He has the stone faced determination of an assassin when he takes the mound. He expects to win. He expects to throw a complete game. He is a throwback to the 1960s-1970s pitchers like Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins. He is the gunslinger with a quicker draw than hitters.

Again, this is a game the Cubs really need to win. Game 4 is a Jason Hammel, bullpen game so anything can happen. But everyone is counting on Arrieta tonight to be Cy Young worthy.

It should be another great baseball game.

October 11, 2015


The Cubs earned a split with St. Louis which puts Chicago with home field advantage in now a best of three contest.

The Cubs struggled with the strike zone and scoring runs in Game 1. So Maddon used old school techniques and bad Cardinal fielding to manufacture runs in a big five run inning.

Safety Squeezes are passe in the era of long balls and sabermetrics. But back to back drops put pressure on the defense who failed to execute. Austin Jackson said after the game any time you can put pressure on the other team, that is good.

Pitching and defense win championships. The Cubs may have given Maddon enough comfort in the bullpen of T. Wood, Cahill and Rondon to close out any game. By pulling Hendrick after 4.1 innings, Wood came in for a brilliant 2.2 IP to get to the new set up man, Cahill. He was pumped up by his 1,2,3 8th inning performance. Rondon, who tended to overthrow a few pitches, settled in and closed out the game.

If Maddon knows he has three relievers he can count on, he does not have to try to ride a struggling starting pitcher. He should have no problems with Arrieta in Game 3, but he is looking forward into Game 4.

The big deal is that if the bullpen can perform like in Game 2, the Cardinals starting pitching strength vanishes for the rest of the series.

October 9, 2015


Today's Cubs-Cardinals contest is a statement game for the Series.

It may not be a "must win" for the Cardinals, who have home field advantage, but it is a key for the Cubs.

The Cubs are on a 9 game win streak. The performance over a Game 7-elimination game against the Wild Card Pirates is still foremost in their minds. It is possible to have an endorphin rush let down.

The Cubs paid Jon Lester $155 million just for this moment: post season Number 1 starter. This Cardinal series falls squarely on his shoulders, since Jake Arrieta will only pitch one game (Game 3 on short rest).

Lester is 1-3 against the Cardinals this year. St. Louis is well aware of Lester's problems holding base runners. The Cardinals are expected to put pressure on Lester's fielding issues.

But Lester has performed well in the postseason for Boston. In two divisional series, his record is 2-1, 1.63 ERA. In two world series, his record is 3-0, 0.43 ERA. His overall postseason record is 6-4, 3.57 ERA, 1.071 WHIP, 2.5 K/BB ratio.

It is also a statement game for the fans. The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry has never included a postseason series. The historic nature of this season is on the mindset of everyone. Even late night host Stephen Colbert took out his Chicago time to banish the Goat on national TV. This series is going to be the focal point for national attention. With it, comes growing expectations and bandwagon pressure.

Is Lester up to this monumental challenge?

October 8, 2015


Here are my game thoughts from the Cubs victory over the Bucs:

1. Enough with the Tommy LaStella in the line-up. The idea that Bryant is a liability at third
was clearly erased last night. And LaStella's contact bat was silent last night.

2. When Arrieta takes the mound, he does not think he could win - - - he expects to win.
And his team thinks the same thing which is an extremely powerful mental edge, something
that the Blackhawks have had in their championship runs.

3. Arrieta did not even have his best command. He looked like he got tired and hit the wall
in the middle innings. I was questioning why Maddon did not take him out for Rondon in the 9th,
but I guess Arrieta/Maddon wanted to make a statement to the rest of the pitching staff
that old school "give me the ball at first pitch and let me end it" is still alive in the modern game. This reminds me of the White Sox starters during their 2005 World Series run.

4. The Schwarber home run may still be in orbit. He crushed it. With a 3-0 lead, with Arrieta on
the mound, the Pirate fans were silenced for most of the rest of the game. At that point, very few
thought the Cubs would lose the game.

5. Why do the Wild Card winners do so well in the post season? The Wild Card game is played
like a Game 7 so that pressure and experience must have some carry over into the next series.

6. Next up is the litmus test of how well Theo spent $155 million. Lester is supposed to be the
proven post-season ace. He has the champion bulldog determination to carry a team. In the
St. Louis series, he will pitch twice. He is the key to the series.

October 7, 2015


I think Maddon is overdoing it, again.

Word is that he will start Tommy LaStella at third base,
move Bryant to the big LF area, and move Schwarber to RF.

Why mix and match now?

LaStella is not a starter. He is not the best infield defender
(Baez). And Coghlan has more power than LaStella,
which is more important in a close game with a fastball
pitcher like Cole on the mound.

No, you play your best your best eight starters from the start of the game.

If Schwarber is a liability in the wide acreage of LF, move him to right field.
He has already played a couple games there. Then insert Coghlan in LF,
and keep Bryant at his natural position, third.

 With Arrieta on the mound, there should be less emphasis on defense because
he is a strike out pitcher with command. Against Cole, you need quick offense
and power bats in the lineup.

October 5, 2015


The 2015 Cubs surprised the world by going 97-65. They ended 20 games better than my pre-season prediction. The Pythagorean record for the Cubs this year was 90-72. I equate the difference in manager Joe Maddon, who would get a 7.0 WAR, for his unique style of getting a team of veterans and youngsters to gel in such a short period of time.

But the Cubs team was really dominated by their starting players, with three who really carried the team on their backs and into the playoffs.

Regular season position players/WAR:

Montero, c 1.8
Rizzo, lf 6.3
Russell, ss 3.4
Castro, 2b 0.7
Bryant, 3b 6.0
Coghlan, lf 1.9
Fowler, cf 2.2
Soler, rf (0.1)

Position starters totaled 22.2 WAR of the team total 23.3 WAR, or 95.3% of total offense WAR.

Regular season starting pitchers and closer/WAR:

Arrieta, sp 8.6
Lester, sp 2.9
Hendricks, sp 1.7
Hammel, sp 1.6
Haren, sp 0.2
Rondon, cl 2.1

These key pitchers totalled 17.1 WAR of the team total 18.5 WAR or 92.4% of total pitching WAR.

Arrieta's individual WAR was 50.3 % of the total team pitching WAR.

Rizzo's individual WAR was 27% of the total team offense WAR.
Bryant's individual WAR was 25.75% of the total team offense WAR.

Arrieta, Rizzo and Bryant carried more than half their position team WAR.
Combined, these three players had 50% of total team WAR.

October 3, 2015


The only thing that motivates a professional athlete is playing time.

The desire to be competitive drives athletes. So the best way to stoke that fire is the have healthy competition for positions.

In the past weeks, manager Joe Maddon was not too pleased with the effort of his 3, 4 and 5 starters. He had to resort to "bullpen" days instead of putting out a starting pitcher. It was a wake up call to his staff that you have to perform in order to be on the post season roster.

As a result of this sledgehammer to the skull clue, the starters have been good the last week, including Haren, Hendricks and Hammel.

Fans are looking well ahead of the Wild Card game to see how Maddon will operate his pitching corps. Arrieta will be spent on the Wild Card contest next Wednesday. Lester will be the next starter if the Cubs prevail over the Pirates.

Game 2 of the NLCS is the nagging concern. Of Hammel, Hendricks and Haren, who do you trust?
Until this week, no one.

What may happen is a minor league tandem game for Game 2. A tandem game is where 2 starters split the game and throw 4 innings each. I suggest a Hammel-Haren duo could work. That would leave Hendrick, the more consistent of the three, to pitch Game 3 depending on the situation. If it is an elimination game, Maddon could use Arrieta on 4 days rest.

But it good to see Maddon instilling competition for roster spots at the end of the season. It makes the club better. It makes the players hungry for playing time. It makes them want to perform at a high level.

October 2, 2015


There are strong hints that Maddon would like 16 position players on the roster for the Wild Card game. That means he would carry 7 pitchers into the one game contest, a starter and 7 relievers.

You would assume that he would have to take at least 2 long relievers in case of injury or blow out in early innings (Wood, Richard, Cahill). You know he will have his back end of the pen (closer Rondon, Strop) That leaves Ramirez, Grimm, Rodney, Rosscup, Edwards and Wada as the odd men out.

But loading up the bench for in game switches could give Maddon "too many options" in the game, like to remove Schwarber's bat for defense in a close game.

Against Cole, it would seem that the starting line up would be:

1. Fowler cf
2. Schwarber lf
3. Bryant 3b
4. Rizzo 1b
5. Castro 2b
6. Montero c
7. Soler rf
8. Russell ss
9. Arrieta sp

The back up for each player for an 8 man bench would be:

1. A. Jackson
2. Denorfia
3. Baez
4. Coghlan
5. LaStella
6. Ross
7. Sczczur
8. Herrera