June 29, 2016


When you take a risk and it works out, you are a genius. But if you should not have had to take a risk in the first place, one could say you are reckless and lucky.

The Cubs are a much better team than the AAA Reds. But it took 15 innings to put away the last place club. And in the process, it was another maddening game.

Joe Maddon ran out of position players in the 13th inning. That should never happen. But Joe continues to believe that he can mix and match players like it is a Stat-O-Matic card or video game. By the end of the game, three relief pitchers had played left field.

Travis Wood and Spencer Patton alternated pitching and playing left in the 14th inning like it was a 7 year old youth baseball game. Wood pitched the 15th while Pedro Strop, for no apparent reason, stood out in left field.

Maddon justified the bizarre situation.  "We were down to almost nothing," he said after using 22 of the 25 players on his roster. "Travis, my God, what an athlete. ... Travis made everything possible. He may have had his best stuff all year."

But it should have never come to that point. The Reds pitching staff is a mess, but the Cubs could only scratch out 2 runs in 9 frames. The Reds Brandon Phillips was hobbled like a 75 year old man after taking fouls off his ankle, arch and rib cage. But Hector Rondon blew another save, and that started a weird shuffle the lineup deck in Maddon's mind.

When Maddon put in 40 year old reliever Joel Peralta in the 13th, he replaced OF Chris Coghlan in left field with Wood. That move makes no sense. Period. Coghlan is a better defensive player. In a tied game, in extra innings, defense matters.Especially when the Reds had the winning run at second base!  Maddon could have always replaced Peralta with Wood without taking out Coghlan.

Maddon must have mentally justified keeping Wood in the game to get pitcher-batter match ups. Wood got to bat in the top of the 14th before going back out to left field in the bottom of the inning while Maddon called upon Patton to pitch. After Patton got an out, he replaced Wood in left field and Wood took the mound to get left handed hitter Jay Bruce out on a ground ball. Patton then came back in from left to get the final out of the 14th.

The Cubs away with the over-managing moves by scoring 5 runs in the 15th, highlighted by Javy Baez's grand slam to deep center field. But it did not stop Maddon from using Jason Hammel to pinch hit for Patton, requiring Pedro Strop to play left field in the bottom of the 15h.

After the game,Maddon said he had never used three pitchers in the outfield in a single game and was shaking his head trying to remember all the decision-making that went on to pull this game off.
And that is part of the problem. The decision making process of making so many moves leads to potential problems, including situations later on in the season. As many other commentators have said for more than a week, throwing players in different positions can lead to Kyle Schwarber injuries, especially using much needed catalyst Willson Contreras in left field.

Maybe things will calm down when Jorge Soler and Tommy LaStella come back off the DL. But probably not.

June 28, 2016


The game of baseball never ceases to surprise you.

A fan can never truly say "I've seen it all."

Last night in Cincinnati, Kris Bryant did something no other baseball player had ever done. And when you see what he accomplished, you are surprised that he was the first.

Bryant set career highs with three home runs and five extra-base hits on Monday to help the Chicago Cubs beat the Reds 11-8.

Bryant became the fifth player in the past 100 years to go 5-for-5 with five extra-base hits in a game. He joined Josh Hamilton (2012), Steve Garvey (1977), Joe Adcock (1954) and Lou Boudreau (1946).
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, Bryant is the youngest player in Cubs history to hit three home runs in a game. He is 10 days younger than Ernie Banks was when he accomplished the feat in 1955. Elias also notes that Bryant's 16 total bases on Monday are the most by a Cub in the modern era.

Bryant's box score included three home runs and two doubles. No one in baseball history had that combination of five hits in a game. And that is the surprising thing: we have seen four home run games, wild extra inning contests, 20 plus runs scoring days - - -  but never a player hit 3 HR and 2 doubles in a contest.

Bryant was in a zone because none of his home runs were cheap. They were long, towering blasts.
In another oddity, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information, Bryant is the first player in at least 100 years to hit three home runs and play three different positions (third base, right field and left field). Joe Maddon changing his positions did not affect Bryant at the plate. There is a comfort zone Bryant has reached in his second full season in the majors. And for the Cubs, that may be the foundation pillar for more modern baseball firsts.

June 22, 2016


In the dead ball era of baseball, teams had two or three starters. In the 1960s-1970s, there were four man rotations. Today, the norm is a five starters on pitch counts.

The Cubs will soon buck the trend to add Adam Warren as the sixth starter.

The Cubs will soon go on a stretch of 24 straight games without a day off. With the heat of the summer upon the team, and Jake Arrieta scuffling to get through 5 innings recently, the front office is making a preemptive move by getting another pitcher available.

AAA Iowa does not have any quality major league ready starters to hold the fort in case of an injury or sore arm regular. That is why Warren, who made 17 starts last season with the Yankees as a long reliever, was sent to Iowa - - - to stretch out for a new role.

And because of recent high pitch counts, the Cubs have called up a platoon of fresh, young arms: C.J. Edwards (when Fowler went on the DL), Spencer Patton returns (to take Clayton Richard's spot) and Geraldo Concepcion (for Warren's slot).

 Richard went to the DL for a "blister."  He has been horrible and invisible this season, with a 7.30 ERA and a 2.19 WHIP. With no options left, this could be a way to buy time to see if they can get him straightened out before releasing him.

Warren was chosen to stretch out over Travis Wood because Wood is one of the few relief arms that Joe Maddon really trusts in any situation.  Wood has become a force in the bullpen (2.30 ERA in 27 IP, 0.95 WHIP).

Patton has been good in Iowa, compiling eight (8) saves with a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings of work.

Concepcion will be  the other lefty in the pen alongside Wood. This year in Iowa, he has worked just 17 1/3 innings to the tune of a 2.60 ERA. He’s allowed 7.8 H/9, but has managed to keep runners from crossing the plate. But Concepcion is the first Jed Hoyer pitcher to make it to the major league roster. A large bonus contract signed the Cuban exile in 2012, the first major move by the new regime. But Concepcion was horrible in rookie, A, and AA ball. From one of the best organizational prospects, he fell off the list. Some did not realize that he was still with the organization until his call-up yesterday.

The reason the Cubs will shuffle the bullpen with more arms is that Maddon believes the versatility of his regulars who play multiple positions effectively gives him a 28 man roster. However, that is really not true since a player cannot play two positions at the same time.

Another concern is that even though they have debuted in style, the Cubs are starting to regularly play three players with less than one year service time  (catcher Willson Contreras, OF Alberto Almora, and IF Javy Baez.) Each has shown tremendous defense skills, but the Cubs need to produce more offense during this long stretch of upcoming games.

It is expected that Warren will throw a short start (3 IP), then a couple of normal outings (5 IP or 80 pitches) before returning to the Cubs. Once he returns, the rotation will go to six starters, meaning that each regular will have an extra day off during July and August. There was a concern last year that Arrieta's work load drained his tank in the post season. Lester and Lackey have a lot of innings pitched on their arms as well. It is a prudent move to try to conserve the best starting rotation in the majors for the playoffs.

June 19, 2016


Sometimes you hit a home run and get fireworks. Other times, you just get a bad explosion.

The White Sox search for a solid starter has blown up in their collective face.

The White Sox 13-2 loss to Cleveland on Saturday night was an embarrassment for a club that has been a long, harsh nose dive after a great start.

The Indians got quick, big lead with  a five-run first inning by brutalizing Sox starter James Shields.

The AL Central-leading Indians sent 19 batters to the plate in the first two innings while building an 8-0 lead against Shields.

Shields, making his third start since being traded from San Diego to Chicago, was tagged for eight runs on seven hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings.

Shields is 2-9 overall this year. The former ace is 0-2 for the White Sox, giving up a whopping 21 earned runs on 24 hits and nine walks in just 8 2/3 innings. His ERA is a staggering 21.81. His WHIP is an ungodly 3.808. He has a negative 1.0 WAR after just three games. His Runs better than Replacement Level Player is a negative 16. These statistics are worst than the pitchers, Danks and Latos, that he has replaced in the rotation.

"It's disappointing, and we've got to figure this thing out," Shields said. "We've got to keep going out there. That's the only way to go. This is a special team and I've got to keep grinding."

There is an old saying: "never watch how sausage is made." Shields may think he is grinding, but the sausage he is making is horrible to watch.

June 13, 2016


The Cubs continue to take flyers on injured pitchers.

First, Joe Nathan was signed to a contract even though he was not close from returning from TJ surgery. He is not even close to starting rehab assignment.

Second, the Cubs traded for Aaron Brooks who was on the DL at the time. Brooks now makes his way to Iowa after spending the first half of the season on the disabled list. Brooks played for Nashville, Oakland, Omaha and Kansas City last season after a mid-season trade. He went 3-4 with a 6.67 ERA in 13 big league games and was 7-5 with a 3.72 ERA in 20 Triple-A appearances.

Now, the Cubs claimed A. J. Alvarez off waivers from Oakland. Alvarez is coming off March elbow surgery. Prior to that, he had a 9.00 ERA. He was activated by the Iowa Cubs to work in the bullpen.

The Iowa Cubs already had seven pitchers on the DL/restricted list. In addition, the Cubs have Zac Rosscup and Dallas Beeler on the 40 man 60-day DL.

Epstein-Hoyer have a habit of signing injured players in hope that they can fight lightning in a bottle, gold at the end of the rainbow, or high reward from a low risk move. But it does show how week the organization's pitching is throughout the minors. Five out the first six draft choices this year were right handed college pitchers - - - presumably more ready to contribute in the high minors or major leagues.

The Cubs bullpen, especially Richard and Grimm, is the weakest link on the roster. Rumors continue to spread that the Cubs have talked to the Yankees about one of their three power bullpen arms. We shall see.

In addition, the Cubs used 71 percent of their  2016 draft choices (27/38) on pitchers.  Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago reports that the Cubs used 80 draft picks on pitchers between 2012 and 2015 and not one has thrown a single pitch for the major-league club yet.

The league average is about 50 percent of draft choices are pitchers. In the Epstein era to date, the Cubs have selected 53.5 percent pitchers in the draft.

The Cubs selected  Oklahoma State University right-hander Thomas Hatch with their first pick in the Third Round. Hatch missed the entire 2015 season with an elbow injury, but he’s come back from that sprained ulnar collateral ligament to perform as a redshirt sophomore (7-2 with a 2.16 ERA and 102 strikeouts against 28 walks through 112-plus innings). He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds for a Cowboys team trying to advance to the College World Series this weekend.  

“It’s something that certainly we have to be aware of,” said senior vice president Jason McLeod, who oversees the scouting and player development departments. “We know that it’s in his past, but we’re confident in making the selection that he’s going to be healthy going forward.

“We always know when you draft a player who’s had a medical occurrence in his past it’s always a risk. But (it’s) weighing all the factors, getting to know the player himself, the competitor that he is.
“I just saw him a couple weeks ago at the Big 12 tournament. The stuff coming out of his hand, how he’s commanding everything, and more so just how this guy competed every week and how he performed every week, we felt very good to get him there.”

The Cubs also went with right-handed college pitchers in rounds four through six: California Baptist’s Tyson Miller; Duke’s Bailey Clark; and Cal State Fullerton’s Chad Hockin (a grandson of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew). As well as rounds eight through 10: Haverford’s Stephen Ridings; Dartmouth’s Duncan Robinson; and Michigan State’s Dakota Mekkes.

June 10, 2016


Trades in early June are rare.

Both the Cubs and White Sox have been active but for different reasons.

The Cubs are trying to cover for some injuries while the White Sox are trying to plug massive holes in their sinking ship.

The trade for James Shields was supposed to have solidified the starting rotation. Shields debut was a train wreck, but not as bad as management must have thought since it DFA'd starter Mat Latos to call up Tyler Danish for bullpen duty (as the training before joining the rotation). Danish is one of the five quality starting arms in the minors.

The Cubs made a questionable trade.

The Cubs have brought back veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan in a trade with the Athletics, per an announcement from Oakland. Young utilityman Arismendy Alcantara will go back in return.

Coghlan is batting .146!

Alcantara has been playing 5 positions in AAA with 5 HRs 21 RBI, .246 BA. He is a speedy left handed hitter who has more value to a team than a 5th outfielder struggling at the plate.

Alcantara is 24. Coghlan 30.

Perhaps the Cubs front office panicked when Jorge Soler tweaked his hamstring. But rookie Albert Almora has looked fairly polished in his Cub debut. It is odd then to trade for a player with little upside to send Almora back down the minors when he has not done anything to cause such a demotion.

Kris Bryant called Almora the best outfielder he has ever seen. With Almora in left, Fowler playing a deeper center and Heyward in right, the Cubs have a plus outfield defense which could win games when the offense struggles.

The White Sox moves make sense since Latos was falling quickly to his horrible 2015 form. The Cubs move makes little sense in where they are at in the standings and the players currently on their roster.


The White Sox DFA'd Jimmy Rollins and promoted top prospect Tim Anderson. Anderson, who is hitting .304/.325/.409 with four home runs, 20 RBIs and 11 steals in 256 plate appearances, takes over as the starting shortstop.  

June 6, 2016


 UPDATE: (6/9/16): The White Sox have been looking to replace John Danks. Little did they know that James Shields is the right handed version of Danks.

Shields White Sox debut against the Nationals was a boo-fest. He gave up three home runs, 7 earned runs in only 2 + innings of work. Of his 84 pitches, only 44 were for strikes. This came after a 10-run disaster in a Padre uniform.

In the pregame, Steve Stone only said that Shields had to throw quality starts and eat up innings to save the bullpen. He said Shields has had quality starts in 8 of his 11 previous outings. In his career, he averages 31 starts and 200 IP. He is durable. He is a professional.

But he is suddenly really bad. Down 4-0 in the top of the first against the Nationals ace pitcher was an early death knell for the Sox.

The problem with Shields start was that he was low. His change and slider were coming up short to the plate. Now, it was reported that his velocity was down from last year. If he was shorting his pitches to the plate, there may be more than just a mechanical issue wrong with him. Considering that the White Sox did not give up much for Shields in the trade, there will be suspicions based on his Sox debut.

On the flip side, the Nats did not go fishing for any pitches in the dirt. They waited on a fastball in the zone to crush it. 

The bad start still does not erase the real problem with the Sox: offense. The drought continues to put more stress on the White Sox starters to pitch nearly perfect games.

The White Sox may have a had a concern about the #4 and #5 starters in the rotation, but the real problem for the team during this long losing streak where the team is now only 1 game over .500 from its first place perch of 12 games over is offense, hitting.

So the trade for Padres pitcher James Shields was not expected as a priority. It is more a defensive move to keep the critics at bay with a "big" trade while the Sox try to figure out their offensive woes.

Consider that Shields is 34 years old and on the decline of his career bell curve. Reports a few weeks ago indicated that he wanted to stay and pitch for the losing Padres. Some consider that a selfish move by a player who does not want to be on a competing team in a pennant race.  Maybe he likes the San Diego laid-back beach culture. Now, he travels to Chicago to board a sinking ship.

But he was publicly called out by the Padre owner who was frustrated by the horrible play of his team. This has started the fire sale by the Padres.

Shields, pitching in the friendly home ball park, is 2-7, 4.28 ERA and 1.426 WHIP.  He is the midst of his worst season. He is the first year of a big contract ($65 million with a 2016 opt out).  The White Sox traded starter Erik Johnson, who had his chance at the rotation but failed, and a young shortstop prospect in Fernando Tatis, Jr. The Sox only pick up $27 million of Shield's deal so it was an affordable trade.

If the White Sox wanted to pick up the whole nut, the Padres reportedly would have added Jon Jay to the deal. Jay is the ex-Cardinal outfielder who in 55 games (238 AB) is hitting .299, 2 HT, 18 RBI with an oWAR 1.4. He is a left handed bat that the Sox are seeking to fill out the line up. He is in the last season of a contract at $6.85 million.

Using the LaRoche money savings, the Sox still have $8 million to find a bat to help the offense. But time is running out on the White Sox and manager Robin Ventura.

Giving Ventura Shields to bolster the rotation is fine, but it does not solve the lack of run support. When pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana start going back to the mean and giving up three runs in starts, the White Sox struggle to over come it. Ventura's managerial record is poor and his decision making has been questioned by local media. But ownership is loyal to its people so Ventura will ride out the season, for good or ill.

But it would be a huge black mark for the organization which had "won" the last two off-seasons with its roster moves. The White Sox did not give up much for Shields. It kept its best pitching and position prospects.

The 26-year-old Johnson, who’s the more established player the Padres got for Shields, could figure into their rotation at some point. Johnson has posted a 4.50 ERA, 7.1 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 across 98 major league innings. In a 523 2/3-frame minor league sample size, Johnson’s strikeout rate (7.8) hasn’t looked much different, though he has walked fewer batters (3.1) with a 3.23 ERA.

Tatis, meanwhile, signed with the White Sox for $700K as a 16-year-old last summer. The Dominican native is the son of former big leaguer Fernando Tatis, and Baseball America wrote at the time of his signing that the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder pairs power potential on offense with a good arm on defense. Tatis, therefore, could potentially serve as a third baseman or outfielder in the majors.

June 1, 2016


When Joe Maddon inserted Kris Bryant at shortstop for an inning late in the Dodger game, one reaction was that the move was "little league."

He is moving players around like a little league manager, Bruce Levine said on the radio. Levine also noted that the Cub players do not fear playing new positions.

But that still begs the question: why?

No team has won the World Series by fielding eight utility players.

By playing players out of the normal position a) increases the chance of injury (Schwarber in LF); and  b) lessens the quality of defense (Heyward in CF). It is very rare for a player to be very good at more than one position. Ben Zobrist has made a career on being a super utility player (SS, 2B, 3B, OF). Javy Baez's best position is shortstop. He has the arm and range to play third and second base.

Other than Zobrist and Baez, no other Cub players are plus defenders outside their natural position. It is fine to send Bryant to LF to insert Baez at third when a ground ball pitcher like Jon Lester is on the mound.

But most players will tell you that they like a normal routine. They are creatures of habit.

But Maddon is not. He likes to keep the team loose, and off-guard. Putting Bryant at shortstop was a wake up call to the bench. Bryant did not have a ball hit to him or had to make a play at short, but objectively, it could have been one of those WTF moments. A grounder deep in the hole could cause Bryant to strain muscles or his arm trying to make a jump throw to first. Or worse, trying to make the double play at second base moving his body across the bag, throwing against his body and being hit by a base runner.

A manager needs to be a risk assessment manager. There is no upside for Bryant playing shortstop. The risk of injury against his routine positioning and throwing motions makes it an accident waiting to happen. Bryant has shown he is an above average third baseman. He is OK in left field. Let him play his natural position so he can concentrate on hitting.