July 26, 2016


MLB.com got the first interview with The Slasher, Chris Sale:

CHICAGO --Chris Sale doesn't want to be traded -- and doesn't believe he will be -- in the wake of Saturday night's pregame outburst that resulted in him being scratched from his start that evening and then suspended five games by the White Sox.

"I want to win a championship in Chicago. That's been my goal from Day 1," Sale told MLB.com Monday afternoon during a 30-minute interview, his first public comments since Saturday. "It has never changed. I only get more passionate about it because I know that it's not easy winning a championship. There's a lot that goes into it.

"Our main focus should be winning. I know that every single player comes in ready to win every day. I can't speak on anybody else. ... I don't think I would be traded. I don't know for sure. I don't know what they are thinking now or what's going on."

For Sale, the core issue wasn't the uniforms themselves, although he did have issues with them, but putting business interests ahead of winning.

"Nothing else matters really," Sale said, in a calm and composed but still passionate manner. "People don't talk about the guys who get paid the most. They talk about the guys with the rings and teams that won the rings. Our guys in this clubhouse deserve, in every single game, the best opportunity to go achieve that goal of winning a championship. That's why we are all here. Nothing else matters."

There are, of course, financial considerations for the White Sox as there are for any business. Throwback days are popular with fans and often are accompanied by a spike in attendance. Switching uniforms at the last moment, without an opportunity to inform fans of the change, certainly could have engendered frustration on the part of fans who came to see the team play in those uniforms.

The issue, for Sale, began in Spring Training when the players were fitted for the special jerseys, which in 2015 were too large and therefore uncomfortable to play in. Sale said that players were not fans of this jersey overall, and he said then that if the jerseys fell on his day to pitch, he didn't want to wear them, in part because he never had pitched in an untucked jersey in his life.

On the night before Sale's Saturday start, he was advised that the '76 throwbacks were set for his start and Sale asked the clubhouse manager for a different uniform, then expressing the sentiment to pitching coach Don Cooper. Sale was in favor of the '83 throwbacks, which eventually were worn Saturday, because he didn't want the untucked style of the '76 uniform.

When he arrived Saturday and the '76 throwbacks were set out for the players, Sale again took his issue to Cooper and manager Robin Ventura, with whom he admittedly lost his cool. He did not get the answer he wanted and, upon returning to the clubhouse, Sale reportedly cut up his uniform and then those of his teammates, rendering them unwearable.

"When I saw that there was something in the way of that 100 percent winning mentality, I had an issue," Sale said. "I tried to bring it up and say, 'Hey listen, these are my thoughts and concerns,' and they got pushed away because of the business deal that was set in place. I'll never understand why we need to do something on the business side on the field that might impede us winning a game.

"[The '76 uniforms] are uncomfortable and unorthodox. I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it. Looking bad had absolutely zero to do with it. Nothing."

In the end, Ventura told Sale there would be no last-minute change.

"I didn't put promotion in front of winning," Ventura said. "But I think we all have things that we have to do. There has to be a line somewhere, and that's what ended up happening."

"Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department," Sale said. "If the players don't feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix -- it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that's when I lost it."

Ventura made the decision to scratch Sale, and Sale apologized Monday to the fans who came to see him and to his teammates, especially the bullpen, who he said he owes big time for their carrying the team in his place.

"I have regret, because I play 33 times a year at most in the regular season. So I put a lot of emphasis on when I play and I take a lot of pride in work that I do," Sale said. "When I can't or don't do that, yeah, I have disappointment in myself for not being there for my guys.

"Do I regret standing up for what I believe in? Absolutely not. Do I regret saying business should not be first before winning? Absolutely not."

Sale worked out Monday at the ballpark and said he did not think he and Ventura needed a sitdown. But their working relationship might have been altered.
"We'll find out when he gets back," Ventura said.

"I'm going to show up on Thursday and do what I've always done. That's get ready to play baseball and put everything I got into winning that game," Sale said. "I know my teammates are, too. So that's all that matters to me. It's unfortunate it got to this point."

>>>> From Sale's interview, here are the main points:

1. Sale was aware of the throw back uniforms in spring training when he was fitted for his jersey.
2. Sale said in spring training he did not want to wear it.
3. Sale has "never" worn a untucked jersey. He did not want to alter his mechanics with an untucked jersey.
4. When he was told of the jersey the day before his start, he objected to the clubhouse manager and then to his pitching coach.
5. On the day of the game, he again objected to his pitching coach and manager Ventura, who told him there would be no change in uniforms.
6. Upon hearing the decision, Sale went into the clubhouse and destroyed everyone's jersey.
7. Sale justifies his actions because he believes players need to be 100% comfortable in order to win championships, and business interests should not interfere with winning.

It is hard to believe that a veteran baseball player has such a narrow, self-centered view of the world. 

How does an untucked shirt interfere with one's body mechanics when it is actually a looser garment?
If winning is important, why did Sale think his violent actions and suspension was going to help the White Sox win?

Does he not realize that baseball is a business? A business needs revenue in order to pay its bills, including Sale's salary? And that the White Sox rely on sponsorship and fan giveaways like throwback jersey nights in order to get revenue? 

Does he not respect the game of baseball? The throwback jerseys are to bolster the image of the game and its history. It gives fans an opportunity to re-connect with their teams past.

Why did he destroy ALL his teammate's jerseys? Is it not possible that some players like these throwback uniforms? Sale put his own personal opinion above and beyond anyone else's view point.

What is really troublesome is that Sale's action of destroying a locker room full of expensive jerseys is a felony under Illinois law. An employee has no right to destroy his employer's property. In a normal business situation, Sale's employment would have been terminated and a criminal charge may have been filed against him for restitution. But a pampered athlete gets a pass on serious accountability for their actions.

Yes, a five day suspension probably cost Sale $125,000 in salary. It cost Sale a start. But apparently, those costs have not changed Sale's view point on how the White Sox should be run.

Are the inmates running the asylum? Players may believe the locker room is their own domain but it is not. It is owned and operated by the club. Management has a right to impose its rules and regulations on the players and clubhouse procedures just as any other employer.

The White Sox players have a very anti-management edge which bubbled to the surface during the LaRoche incident in spring training. The Sox also had an issue with the Mariners new policy of taking 60 percent of the visitor clubhouse attendant's player tips and dues. Now, Sale physically tore up management's business promotion because he was not on board with it.

If Sale is truthful about his reasoning that the players "deserve" the best opportunity to win, then as the team's best pitcher, he should have sucked up his pride and pitched in the throwback uniform because it gave the White Sox the best chance to win the game. Instead, the team had to scramble six bullpen pitchers to cover for Sale's actions. 

Sale is dead wrong on this issue. He is a selfish, childish player who has anger management issues. His tantrum is not endearing to the fans or to his bosses. And since this is not the first time he has challenged a management decision, he may get traded this off-season because the White Sox are not winning with him.


The Cubs overpaid for a 10 week regular season rental player.

Aroldis Chapman is an elite closer.  Chapman, 28, has the highest strikeout rate per nine innings in baseball, and his fastball was recently clocked at 105 mph. The left-hander has a 2.01 ERA in with 20 saves in 21 opportunities for the Yankees.

In order to get the deal done, the Cubs sent four players to New York: #1 prospect Gleyber Torres, #4 prospect OF Billy McKinney, swingman P Adam Warren (who Chicago got from NY in the Starlin Castro trade) and Class A OF Rashad Crawford.

Torres, 19, was the main chip in the deal. He is projected to have plus defensive skills. But he was going to blocked at the major league level by Addison Russell and Javy Baez.

Warren was a mixed bag as Maddon did not use him consistently as the Yankees did last season as a starter and long reliever. McKinney came over from Oakland in the Russell deal, but he seems to also be blocked by Albert Almora who will succeed Dexter Fowler in CF in 2017.

The Yankees were adamant about getting four players for Chapman, because last off-season they traded four players to the Reds to get Chapman, who was in hot water for an alleged domestic violence investigation.

Chapman and his agent negotiated a 30 game suspension with the league which allowed Chapman to earn enough service time this year to become a free agent this off-season. As a Scott Boras client, Chapman will test the free agent market. He had said he had a preference to re-signing with the Yanks.

So Chapman is clearly a rental player for the Cubs.

Some fans may not like the idea of a bad person coming into the good clubhouse the Cubs have fostered under Joe Maddon. Apparently, Ricketts and the front office spoke to Chapman and set forth their expectations of him and his conduct. In a press release, Chapman said he accepted the league punishment and is working with his girlfriend to raise their daughter. Whether this partial apology will stop fans or the media from questioning Chapman is another matter.

The four players traded for Chapman does improve the back of the bullpen.

However, the four players traded for Chapman could have been used to pry a controllable starting pitcher from a team like the Rays.  The Cubs had been advertising that they wanted to get a controllable starting pitcher prior to the Mike Montgomery trade.

But it appears Theo and Jed are in "win now" mode - - - a championship this season or bust. The trade allows Rondon and Strop to pitch the 8th and 7th innings, with Montgomery and Wood being situational pitchers, and Nathan, Edwards and Grimm in mop up roles.

July 25, 2016


The Cubs and White Sox will do a short home and away four game series. The Crosstown Classic has lost its luster with all the interleague play. The rivalry has gone into a secondary phase after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, and the Cubs had a run in 2008. More important rivalries have taken hold: Cubs-Cardinals; Sox-Royals.

At the moment the Cubs appear to be a much better club. The Cubs lead the NL Central. The Sox are sinking in the AL Central.

What fans used to do was compare starting lineups:

                                          CUBS                         WHITE SOX

Left Field                       Contreras                       Cabrera
Center Field                   Fowler                           Shuck
Right Field                     Heyward                        Eaton
Third Base                     Bryant                            Frazier
Shortstop                        Russell                          Anderson
Second Base                   Zobrist                          Lawrie
First Base                       Rizzo                             Abreu
Catcher                          Montero                         Narvarro

ROTATION                   Arrieta                            Sale
                                       Lester                             Quintana
                                       Lackey                           Shields
                                       Hammel                         Rodon
                                       Hendricks                      Gonzalez

One could argue the Sox have a better player in Cabrera in LF because Contreras is playing out of position; or that Eaton has more assists and BA than Heyward in RF; or Anderson has more potential than Russell at SS, or Navarro is a better offensive fit at catcher than Montero.

But the Cubs match up with 4 better starters than the Sox (Sale is a clear choice over current Jake).

Cubs 9 White Sox 4

And that is where the arguments start and end.
That, and the standings.

But it is the head-to-head matches that used to be the bragging rights for the summer. And usually the weaker team did better in these series.

July 23, 2016


White Sox fans are still sensitive of the infamous 1997 White Flag trade where the team, only two games out of the playoffs, decided to become an aggressive Seller at the trade deadline.

The Sox have always tried to "re-tool" their club instead of rebuilding it with young talent. In the past two off-seasons, writers believed the Sox had made very good acquisitions - - - enough to be very competitive and a playoff team with their fine starting core of pitchers.

But now, 1.5 seasons in the book, the Sox continue to struggle on offense. A shaky bullpen and the lack of deep talent in the minors have gotten GM Rich Hahn putting the "for sale" out early during his long dugout session with the media. He would hear offers on anyone. Which is a complete opposite move from even last week.

So reports quickly pop up that one team has offered "a king's ransom" for Chris Sale. Of course it would. Sale would be the best pitcher on the market. A Cy Young candidate under affordable control through 2019 is a rarity in modern baseball.

MLBtraderumors reported  the Rangers are “making [a] serious effort” to pry Sale loose from the White Sox, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. The Dallas Morning news also recently that the two teams were already chatting about Sale (and Quintana, too) before it became apparent that Chicago was leaning toward selling.

There’s “no indication” as yet whether these talks are going to go anywhere, Sullivan notes, so it doesn’t sound as if there’s anything building in the immediate term. Indeed, Grant adds that no “serious talks” have occurred as of this point. The key takeaway seems to be that Texas at least plans to take a real shot at pulling off a blockbuster.

Indications are that Chicago would have interest in Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar in any scenario involving Sale. We’ve heard those two names quite a bit of late, and obviously the pair carries a lot of trade value. Still, it’s quite likely that Texas would need to add some real talent to that package to get the White Sox to budge.

Sale, after all, is just 27 years of age, remains under control at cheap rates through 2019, and carries a 3.18 ERA over a league-leading 133 frames on the year. Particularly with the contracts factored in, Sale is one of the most valuable single pitching assets in all of baseball — with Quintana not far behind him.

If Sale and Quintana is on the market,  people will be quite upset if the Cubs, who have the best prospects in the game, do not get Sale. But many believe the White Sox will never help the Cubs win a World Championship no matter the package the Cubs would offer.

The Cubs could make the White Sox young in a hurry. You could package a combination of OF Soler, OF McKinney, SS Torres and maybe C Schwarber or IN Baez to capture Sale and another young starting pitcher from the Sox. Sale is an ace pitcher that would put any playoff team over the top.

I have figured that Sale is probably worth a package of seven quality prospects. (Look at the Shelby Miller deal as a comparable.)

The Cubs have to look at it this way: if a NL team like the Nationals get Sale, then their rotation becomes dominate in a short series.

And the fact the Cubs have been looking for a controllable starting pitcher - - - as insurance against Hammels, Lackey or even Arrieta faltering in September - - - - why not go out and get the best?!

It could be all a pipe dream. The idea the White Sox will trade its best player will upset the fan base to no end. The Sox could be putting out the big names to see what other teams are willing to part - - - intelligence to make deals for other talent. But again, if the White Sox get a lion's share of the Cubs young talent - - - fans may think they got the better of the deal.

The odds are that Sale and Quintana are not going to be traded by the deadline. Other position players like Abreu, Frazier, or Eaton could be gone in a flash. But since starting pitching is so valuable today, moving aces is very hard to accomplish.

July 21, 2016


This post was written prior to the Cubs trade.

Many believe that Theo Epstein "loves" his prospects to the point where he cannot part with them. It is a common problem some general managers have in drafting and developing players. Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry was famous for hanging on to his prospects to the point where they had no trade value (or were poor major league players). In a trade market, you try to exchange gold for silver; veterans for quality prospects.

So when Theo took over the Cubs, he had no loyalty to Hendry-era players. Here are some notable players from the Hendry days:

Notable Drafted players:

2003 – Jake Fox, Sean Marshall, Casey Mcgehee, Sam Fuld (unsigned) 

2004 – Fuld, Sean Gallagher

2006 – Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardjiza, Steve Clevenger

2007 – Josh Donaldson, Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer, Josh Vitters 

2008 – Andrew Cashner, Ryan Flaherty, Josh Harrison, Jeff Beliveau, and an unsigned Sonny Gray

2009 – Brett Jackson, DJ LeMahieu, Chris Rusin, Wes Darvill, Brooks Raley, Justin Bour, Trey McNutt, and an unsigned Colin Kaepernick (SF QB)

2010 – Matt Szczur, Erick Jokisch, Elliot Soto, Dustin Geiger, Dallas Beeler

2011 – Javy Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Tayler Scott, Shawon Dunston, Jr., Daniel Lockhart, Trey Martin, Dillon Maples, John Andreoli, James Pugliese, Andrew McKirahan, Michael Jensen, PJ Francescon.

Notable International signings:

2010_ OF Rubi Silva (Cuba), SS Carlos Penalver (Venezuela), 3B Jeimer Candelario (Dominican Republic),  OF Jeffrey Baez, C Alberto Mineo
 (Italy),  RHP Daury Torrez (Dominican Republic)

2009- C Willson Contreras (Venezuela), Pin-Chieh Chen (Taiwan), RHP Felix Pena

2008 – INF Hak-Ju Lee (South Korea),  RHP, INF Arismendy Alcantara (Dominican Republic), Frank Batista RHP, Dominican Republic 

2007 – OF Kosuke Fukudome (Japan), IF Junior Lake (Dominican Republic)

2006 – SS Starlin Castro (Dominican Republic)

2005 – RHP Alberto Cabrera (Dominican Republic)

2004 – RHP Rafael Dolis (Dominican Republic), C Welington Castillo (Dominican Republic).

As you can tell, many of the Hendry signings did make it to the major leagues. Several have been used by Theo as trade chips to acquire other players. In 4.5 years, Theo has turned over most the organizational roster.

So if you are trying to predict which current Cubs prospects or players could be used in a trade deadline trade, look at who is left in the Cubs organization from the Hendry era:

Contreras #2 prospect, Candelario #8 prospect, and Vogelbach #20 prospect.

Contreras and Candelario have both played with the Cubs major league team this season. Vogelbach has gotten some of his power back in AAA Iowa.

Since the Cubs will not trade Kyle Schwarber, who some project to be worth more than 21 WAR in his rookie control period, for a relief pitcher, that means it is really down to Candelario and Vogelbach to make a trade. For a top line reliever like Andrew Miller, this probably will not get it done. For a rental player like A. Chapman, maybe, but there will be other suitors. 

The Cubs acquired left handed swingman Mike Montgomery and minor leaguer Jordan Pries from Seattle in exchange for 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach and minor league starter Paul Blackburn. With Montgomery, the Cubs get a power pitcher from the left side that holds lefties to a .146 BA. He also has the ability to spot start.

Like discussed above, the Cubs parted with Vogelbach, a player who would blocked by Rizzo and Schwarber on the major league roster. Vogelbach was rumored to have been in the Yankee discussions for Andrew Miller, but the Yanks wanted Schwarber.

Of note, Theo and Hoyer did part with one of their "guys," a 2012 draft pick in Blackburn. Blackburn, 22, is 6-4 in AA with a 3.17 ERA. In Pries, the Cubs get a 26 year old AAA reliever who was promoted from AA as a marginal starter.

July 19, 2016


Dave Dombrowski has always been regarded as a good GM.

But in a few days, he has baffled the baseball world.

He acquired All-Star starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz from the Padres
in exchange for an 18-year-old pitching prospect. Straight up.

Then he acquired Diamondbacks closer Zeigler, who owns the team
 record of 43 consecutive saves, for two low level prospects.

So, the Red Sox acquired an All-Star starter and proven closer 
for basically nothing.


Other GMs question how Dombrowski got away with such a haul
for nothing. But then again, he got the deal done with suspect
 GM Dave Stewart in Arizona (remember, he overpaid for Shelby Miller
 who is now in AAA), and a friendship with President Tony LaRussa,  and then dealt the hapless, rutterless Padres.

A few teams grumbled that they offered more for Zeigler than what
the Red Sox gave up . . . . 

But would not the Cubs or Cardinals or any other team have taken both Pomeranz and
Zeigler for three Class A prospects?!!

Of course they would.

But for some reason, only Dombrowski got the deals done.

Quickly. Early. Cheaply.

There have been many writers now thinking that Theo may be too enamored with his own prospects
to trade them for bullpen help. If prospects are the true assets in today's trade market, you have
to part with value in order to get back value.

Except if you are Dombrowski.

July 18, 2016


Hanley and Haugh were on this morning's sports talk discussing the question of Theo Epstein's contract extension which continues to be going no where.

They indicated that writer Jon Heyman speculates that since Andrew Friedman got $7 million plus bonuses from the Dodgers, Epstein is worth $10 to $12 million. If true, the question is whether any baseball executive is worth that kind of money.

Hanley and Haugh opined that since the Cubs "are printing" money with all the new construction and revenue sources inside and outside of Wrigley, making Epstein the highest paid executive is basically a no brainer.

But their premise is incorrect. The Cubs are not building the new plaza building or McDonald's block commercial spaces. Those real estate development projects are owned and controlled by different Ricketts family business entities. The Cubs are basically only a tenant in Wrigley Field (also owned by a different legal entity). The Cubs main revenue sources are ticket sales, concessions and broadcast revenues. The rest of the revenue generating business ventures goes directly to the Ricketts family.

Then, Haugh confirmed that Ricketts told him last year the most "undervalued" person in the Cubs organization was Crane Kenney. Kenney is in charge of the "business" side of the Cubs. He is the one who sets the baseball budget, not Epstein. Haugh said that Kenney recently got his contract extension from Ricketts.

Which gets back to earlier posts on this blog.

The Ricketts have used broad brush strokes of the Cubs and the team's continued success relying upon new revenue sources from outside the park real estate and business ventures. But those ventures are separate and legally distinct from the Cubs baseball team.

Epstein has said that he has had to get create and pull teeth in order to make last off-season's moves to sign Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey. The business side of the organization has put the brakes on what Epstein really wants to do with the Cubs. Since day one, there has been this conflict.

At least the radio hosts recognize that Epstein may be fed up with the office politics and penny pinching budgeting of Kenney so Epstein does not sign a contract extension with the Cubs.

Then what happens?

Ricketts and Kenney could still claim their leadership and business skills were part and parcel to the success of the Cubs. They are the ones who approved all the major moves Epstein made during his tenure. It seems like the Red Sox situation all over again, when Epstein was tossed aside due to upper management and ownership wanted the spotlight on them for the championships.

It comes down to these theories:

1. Epstein will only sign an extension if he gets FULL control of all Cubs operations, including business side and budget.
2. Epstein does not want to sign an extension so he can get a better deal as a "free agent," which in my mind could include an equity stake in a franchise.
3. Ricketts does not want to pay $60 million for a President of baseball operations when there are costly overruns on his dream real estate projects.
4. Ricketts and/or Kenney may believe that since the minor league foundation of success is in place, they don't need Epstein or Hoyer to lead the franchise in the future. They can find someone else to be the General Manager under their control.
5. At the last minute, both sides will come to a compromise agreement.

However, if Epstein really wants to stay, and Ricketts really wants Epstein to stay, a contract extension should have been worked out a year ago.

July 14, 2016


The philosophy that you draft the best bat available and buy pitching on the free market may come to haunt the Cubs in the future.

Most organizations have a balanced approach to player development: you draft both pitchers and hitters high in drafts, and develop all players in the same manner. You use trades and free agency to fill in development gaps on a major league roster. Only a few teams, like the Yankees in the past, have used free agency as the major building blocks for a major league roster.

The myth is that the Cubs's draft strategy was hitter-heavy. More than 47 percent of Theo's Cub draft choices have been pitchers. And the real problem with the Cubs farm system is that it has not developed one starting pitcher in the Theo tenure.

It is possible to draft and develop star pitching talent. Prime example is the White Sox (who have a reverse problem of being unable to draft and consistently develop position players).

The Cubs have relied on a five man rotation. Luckily, the pitchers have not gotten hurt. Adam Warren has made on spot start to give the rotation a day breather, but that did not help much.

If any starter breaks down, there is no help in AAA Iowa.

Pitcher/Games Started/Win-Loss/ERA

Drew Rucsinski 18/5-8/5.83
Jack Buchanan 14/7-5/4.77
Rob Zastryzny 9/42/4.83
Ryan Williams 9/4-1/3.27
Pierce Johnson 9/1-4/7.24

Of the Iowa rotation, Johnson was the former #1 pitching prospect in the organization. But his stock has fallen. Badly.

On the Cubs Top Ten Prospects, only three pitchers are in that list:

#4 Duane Underwood, who is at AA with an 0-5, 4.91 ERA.
#8 Dylan Chase, who is in low A with a 1-0, 3.18 record in 4 starts.
#9 Oscar De La Cruz, who is low A but has not pitched all year.

An objective look at the talent in AAA and the top pitching prospects, the Cubs pitching pantry is pretty barren.

The lack of organizational pitching depth has been a concern for several years. The second half of 2016 may show its glaring weakness affecting a playoff race.

July 11, 2016


The Cubs finished the first "half" of the season with a tight win against the Pirates.

At the All-Star Break, the Cubs are in the first place in the NL Central with a 53-35 record, with a 7 game lead.  The lead was built by a torrent 25-6 start, and then nose dive 6-15 finish.

As the season began, the Cubs were comfortable with the top three starters: Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and newly acquired John Lackey, a big game playoff pitcher. The Cubs hoped that Jason Hammel would rebound and Kyle Hendricks would be a serviceable 5th starter.

The world thought the Cubs would be able to hit with a line up of young and old bangers: Dexter Fowler is an offense minded lead off hitter; Kyle Schwarber has a pure contact swing, rookie of the year Kris Bryant would get better, Anthony Rizzo is always solid and newcomer Ben Zobrist would solidify the infield. The Cubs came out gangbusters to have a historic run differential during the first 30 games.

But Schwarber got hurt in an outfield collision. It was a serious knee injury (of the football type). He is gone for the season. That put the Cubs one lefty bat short. But Zobrist has come through in the clutch and the season streamed along victory lane. But then Fowler hurt his hamstring in June and he has been gone nearly a month. He DH'd on Saturday in South Bend, but did not play on Sunday. He won't play in the All-Star game. His return is indefinite.

The highlights:
Rizzo, .299 BA, 21 HR, 63 RBI
Bryant, .286 BA, 25 HR, 65 RBI
Zobrist, .283 BA, 13 HR, 47 RBI
Fowler, .290 BA, 7 HR, 28 RBI

The concerns:
Montero, .201 BA, 5 HR, 23 RBI
Heyward, .243 BA, 4 H$, 28 RBI
Russell, .237 BA, 11 HR, 51 RBI

People wonder if Russell is going to be a career .235 hitter with a great glove. But others point out that he has 51 RBIs for a shortstop, which is far above average.

Heyward has gotten a lot of grief for his offensive woes, but the catching has been weak hitting until the call up of Willson Contreras (.305 BA, 5 HR, 16 RBI in 83 AB). Maddon was using Contreras like Schwarber, mostly in LF to get his bat into a struggling line up.

It also appears that Maddon has overmanaged more games this season (costing the Cubs a few games such as running out of bench players early). The critics still do not like Maddon playing players outside their natural position, such as Bryant in LF (who bruised his knee colliding with Almora on a play similar to the Schwarber injury incident). But Maddon justifies it by saying having players play multiple positions "extends" his short bench (which it does not because the number of players is the same).

It is hard to say that one player makes a line up purr, but Fowler is the catalyst for the Cubs. His nagging hamstring issue was a major reason for the Cubs first half offense woes. With his return still uncertain, the Cubs will have to rely more heavily on their prospects.

 Maddon believes that it is the starting pitching that pilots this team. In the first half of the first half, the Cubs starters sported a combined ERA under 2.70. In the last 10 games, it is more than 5.70. The Cubs have gone 0 for 10 in quality starts in July.

Despite the horrible last starts of most of the starters, their overall records are very good:

Lackey: 7-5, 3.70 ERA, 1.106 WHIP
Arrieta: 12-4, 2.68 ERA, 1.093 WHIP
Lester: 9-4, 3.01 ERA, 1.084 WHIP
Hammel: 7-5, 3.96 ERA, 1.131 WHIP
Hendricks: 7-6, 2.55 ERA, 1.034  WHIP

Opponents have turned the table on the Cubs. Teams are taking more pitches from the starters (including biting sliders bending just out of the strike zone). By taking more pitches, batters are working deeper counts and putting more stress on the starters to be more precise. With a wildly variable umpire strike zone night to night, ultra competitive starters like Lester and Lackey can easily lose their cool and focus. And once they have to throw one into the zone, batters pounce.

That was the formula for the Cubs hot opening streak. Working long counts, getting to the opponent's bullpen early, "earning" walks and putting up big innings. That is how the Cubs became the talk of the league, the juggernaut.

Good teams adapt to changing conditions. Bad teams find excuses instead of solutions. Maddon hinted that the ending 24 straight days without a game break was grueling, but the Cubs only had Adam Warren stretched out for one spot start. Since mid-June, the bullpen has been taxed (especially for those few pitchers Maddon "trusts" in tight situations).

In 88 games, Travis Wood has pitched in 44, Justin Grimm 40, and Pedro Strop 38. Much of the stressful work load has come in the last 6 weeks.So far, Wood has compiled a 0.3 WAR, Grimm a negative 0.3 WAR and Strop a 0.5 WAR. Closer Hector Rondon has only 14 saves (4 blown saves) for a 1.1 WAR.

The consensus is that the Cubs need to go out and acquire bullpen help. Every contender is looking to improve their pens. A few have questioned whether the Cubs need to go out and get another quality starter (a harder task) because Hammel's history of poor second halves. Part of the issue is that the starters have failed to get through 6 IP. There have been no real rest days for the pen in a month.  The quality of the bullpen is directly related to the quality starts of the rotation.

Arrieta's mechanics are messed up. Lester is getting squeezed by umpires. Lackey is old and looks tired at times. Hammel will be Hammel. Hendricks is poised to have a career year if he continues to pitch to his spots. Can the rotation turn it around after the Al-Star break? That may be the key to the entire season.

The trade market appears to be a tight one this year. Most teams are still within the realm of a wild card spot. The Yankees are the potential big Seller at the deadline, but ownership seems to have clamped down on making any major moves this year. The Yankees do not want to be perceived as "rebuilding" or quitting on a season. So big relief arms like Miller or Chapman may not be available if ownership thinks the team could have a second half run.

If you asked a Cub fan in spring training would they be happy if the Cubs were 7 games ahead of the Cardinals and Pirates at the All-Star break, they would have said "yes." But it was the roller coaster ride to get to that point that has some fans worried about the team's direction since the tailspin is the most recent turn.

July 6, 2016


The Cubs fast start spoiled many of their fans.

After going a fireball 25-6 to start the season, the Cubs have since "struggled" with a 27-25 mark.

The Cubs are still 9 games ahead of second place Cardinals in the NL Central. But many feel that there is something really wrong.

The objective evidence is that the vaulted starting rotation cannot get through 6 innings.
The objective evidence is that the bullpen is not as solid as last season.
The objective evidence is that opponents have adjusted to the Cubs - - - being more patient at the plate, getting pitchers into high pitch counts and stressful innings.
The objective evidence that the Cubs have been relying more on the home run than the congo-line big inning run production.
And the stellar defense has had a few big errors in recent weeks.

The Cubs have lost 5 of the last 6; 6 of the last 10; and 12 of the last 20 games.

Part of the problem may stem from the fact that the Cubs are starting so many prospects.
Part of the problem may stem from the fact that the Cubs still carry 13 pitchers which means the bench is small. Nothing is worse than having both Travis Wood and Jason Hammel pinch hit in the same game.
Part of the problem is that the Cubs line up is still triggered by Dexter Fowler in the lead off position. Fowler has a hamstring issue. There is no word when he will return. The Cubs want to be careful with Fowler so as not to rush him back in the line up.

Maddon knows something is a miss. He has been juggling lineups as strangely as Lou Piniella in his melt down year. He sent down Adam Warren to AAA to stretch out to start a six man rotation because the Cubs are on a 24 game without a day off schedule (but Warren comes back to start one game prior to the All-Star break). There may be more fear in the five starters continually to be average to poor pitchers after the break as to demote one (Hammel is a candidate).

Maddon keeps moving players around to keep them engaged in the team concept. With no set lineups, it is an adventure every day. He wants to keep his team loose. But it almost cost him when Albert Almora and Kris Bryant collided Monday in the outfield. Bryant left the game with a leg bruise, but it could have been worse. (The Schwarber injury was on a similar play.) Maddon likes his rookies aggressive play, but they still need to learn to adapt to major league circumstances. The veterans also need to get their baseball IQ refreshed like when John Lackey put his hands on his head after a passed ball, but failed to cover home plate allowing speedy Billy Hamilton to score from second base!

The baseball season is the longest and most grueling test in American sports. There will be times when players are physically and mentally tired. But good teams find a way to push through and grind out the tough streaks in the schedule. The most critical point of the Cubs season will be the first 10 games after the All-Star break. Will the Cubs return to their favored sons status, or will the fear meter continue to creep up to crisis mode?

July 4, 2016


The Cubs are in a bad 4-10 streak after being swept by the Mets in a four game series. Ironically, before the series, NY media called the Mets "done" because of their struggles and potential bone spur issues with two of their young pitchers.

The Cubs have been dragging themselves through a long road trip. The starting pitching, the key to the brilliant start, has faltered to a level of real concern. Jake Arrieta cannot get through 6 innings. Jon Lester just had the worst start of his entire career. Jason Hammel is turning into his own personal second half Frankenstein of bad.

The week started with the Las Vegas bookies not taking any more bets that the Cubs would win the NL Central. They called it a foregone conclusion. The Cubs were 11 games up on the Cardinals at the time. But now, that deficit is down to 8.

The Cubs have had injuries. But all clubs have injuries. Anthony Rizzo slumped in May, but was on a tear in June. Hitters have ups and downs. The Cubs are playing a lot of prospects the last few weeks due to nagging injuries to starters. For the most part, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora have played well. Joe Maddon needed hitting and the youngsters were giving him contact so the manager rode the hot lumber.

But the bullpen was in a slumber which may have put more pressure on the starters. But in reality, the league has caught up with the Cubs pitching philosophy. More teams are taking pitches and working a count against the starters. By increasing the pitch counts, the Cubs starters have no easy innings. It exposes the weakness of the bullpen earlier in games. By teams taking more pitches and not swinging at sliders diving away or fastballs high in the zone, starters have to work harder to paint the corners. With the umpire strike zone all over the map this year, a starter will get frustrated when he is not getting border line calls. Steve Stone calls these long  "stress" innings (with men on base, hitters driving in runs) more damaging than just an increased pitch count.

The rest of the league is using the Cubs offensive blueprint. Cubs hitters have worked counts and will except walks to keep the hitting line moving down the order. This lead to a lot of big innings and the high run differential the Cubs had on their peers.

But there is a silver lining in the current tails spin: the Cubs are still 51-30. An observer can tell that the Cubs are still on pace to win 102 games. If the Cubs just play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they would win 92 games (which in most minds would be a disappointment after winning 97 last season.)

ESPN has reminded us that the current season has ghostly flashback to 1977.

The Cubs current record of 51-30 is its best mark at the season’s midway point since the 1977 team.

But the 1977 Cubs are not a pleasant memory. They started 47-22 and led the NL East by as much as 8½ games. These are the Cubs of Bill Buckner, 20-game winner Rick Reuschel and future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. But the team cratered in the second half of the year, going 34-59 in the last 93 games to finish 81-81, good for fourth place.

Despite the current woes, the Cubs have to be proud of their first half accomplishment. Now, the hard part: to build upon their success and break the Cubs longest losing streak of the season.