Results tagged ‘ Chicago Cubs ’

The Trials and Tribulations of Starlin Castro

Starlin+Castro+Chicago+Cubs+v+Houston+Astros+Azk64V6VXTclThere haven’t been too many bright spots in Chicago Cubs baseball over the past few seasons. Apart from Darwin Barney’s spectacular defense at 2nd, the release of Carlos Marmol and some savvy trades that ultimately led to 1st baseman Anthony Rizzo, the bleacher bums haven’t had too much to cheer about since 2008. Starlin Castro was one of those bright spots.

Over the past 3 seasons the Cubs’ shortstop has managed to hit .298/.336/.425 with averages of 9 homers, 9 triples, and 32 doubles per year. That’s excellent production at the plate out of the shortstop position and all those hits netted Castro a pair of All-Star appearances. Castro’s defense at the position has never been up to snuff, but he made positive strides with both his glove and his arm a year ago, and at 23 the hope was that he still had room to improve.

That hasn’t exactly been the case though. Through the first half of the 2013 season Starlin Castro has seen a noticeable drop-off in every possible offensive and defensive category. He’s hitting more that 50 points below his career average, while simultaneously walking less and striking out more than ever before. His speed, which had been good enough to net 25 steals a year ago, has declined too and his defense is so bad it’s almost sad watching him stumble through routine grounders before failing to make the play. It was just two years ago that a then 21-year-old Castro led the National League in hits while posting a very solid 3.2 wins above replacement. Now he’s competing for the title of “Worst Player in Baseball” along with the likes of Ike Davis, Jeff Francouer, and Jeff Keppinger, so what gives?


Anthony Rizzo Gives the Cubs a Bargain Building Block

580x472For the better part of the past century the Chicago Cubs have been plagued by one mistake after another. After all, how else do you go 104 years without winning a championship? They’ve bumbled and stumbled their way through the better part of the last decade as well, thanks to a handful of poor management decisions like the time GM Jim Hendry thought it would be a good idea to center a team around the explosive talents of Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.

But things have gotten better over the past couple of seasons. Theo Epstein was hired away from the Red Sox to oversee the rebuilding of the roster. Many of the bloated, unproductive contracts have been cleared away and some bright young talents have stepped in to take their place. Most of the Cubbies current lineup is under the age of 30 and many of the minor league system is chocked full of talent waiting to make the leap to the big leagues. Best of all, the Cubs now have bargain basement discount playing 1st base for the next 7 years in Anthony Rizzo.


A Division Full of Aces: Who has the Best Rotation in the National League Central?

latos+v+sd+7-5-12Let’s just pretend for one moment that the advent of the modern bullpen never happened. There’s no such thing as a LOOGY, Jerome Holtman never invented the save, and starting pitchers are handed the ball at the start of the game with the expectation that they will work a minimum of 7 innings. Now, I’m fairly sure the Player’s Association and a majority of the big league managers would riot if this kind of thing ever happened, but I know one place where everybody would be happy: the National League Central.

You see, apart from Pittsburgh, none of the NL Central teams have been able to cobble together a solid bullpen.The Cardinals struggles have been well-documented this year and for good reason. St. Louis currently has an ERA north of 6.00 out of the bullpen, which is good for dead last in baseball. Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee haven’t been much better ranking 20th, 18th, and 15th respectively in ERA.

But when a starting pitcher is on the mound? Look out, because each of these ball clubs has put together a quality rotation and most of them are running at full power right now. But which one of these star-studded starting staffs is the best?


Milwaukee and Chicago Have Closers that Can’t Seal the Deal

201304032236813640091-p2From 2010 through 2011 John Axford and Carlos Marmol were two of the most effective closers the National League had to offer. Axford was a huge part of the Brewers 2011 run to the NLCS, leading the National League in saves while rocking the meanest foo-man-chu and one of the nastiest sliders in baseball. Despite struggling a bit with control issues, Carlos Marmol was also an extremely effective closer. He struck out a whopping 70 more hitters than any other NL closer between the 2010 and 2011 seasons and piled up a tidy 72 saves.

But since that high water mark in 2011 neither pitcher has been anywhere close to replicating that type of production. In Milwaukee a year ago the bullpen anchored by Axford was an absolute disaster and more than likely cost the team a shot at the playoffs. Marmol had similar struggles a year ago, walking a little over 7 batters per 9 innings of work during his roller coaster season. Both pitchers were up to their devious tricks again over the weekend. On Saturday night Carlos Marmol let both Upton bros. go deep, snatching another Cubbie defeat from the jaws of victory. Not to be outdone, on Sunday afternoon John Axford gave up a 2-run, 11th inning moonshot to Eric Hinske to put the Brewers down 8-6. Milwaukee tried their best to bail Axford out but they came up just short, losing 8-7 to complete the sweep at the hands of the Diamondbacks.


Quick Hits: Deadline Deals from the Buyer’s Perspective

We’ve already talked about the Ichiro trade, the early sales from South Beach, a pair of deals made by the Phillies to improve NL West contenders, and the Zach Greinke deal was covered perfectly by Jonah Keri, so now it’s time to take a look at the rest of the deals around the major leagues during this busy last week, beginning with a trade that has flown completely under the radar thus far.


2nd Half Questions

With the season just over halfway complete, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a look at some of the most pressing questions in baseball leading into what is sure to be an exciting push to October. With 21 teams in contention at the midway point, parity is at an all-time high in baseball. Teams from every sort of market and every sort of financial background are competing with each other, and the extra Wild Card spot has made contenders out of just about everybody excluding the Cubbies. Here we go:


Ron Roenicke Loves the Squeeze Play

It’s been an interesting, and somewhat difficult season at Miller Park this year, with the Brewers stuck in the mud at 38-45 heading toward the All-Star break.  With injuries to expected key contributors Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Gonzalez, and Mat Gamel the Brewer offense has been drained of a good amount of its expected power. Ricky Weeks’ drastic decline in performance (.193/.312/.634 with 6 homers) and the fact that Cesar Izturis has been given 114 at-bats where he hit .209/.230/.297 with 4 total extra-base hits and 1 steal speak to the level of offensive desperation Roenicke must feel in the dugout. Because of this Roenicke has made the squeeze bunt his best friend, trying to muster all the runs he can around Ryan Braun and Corey Hart homers, using the tactic 7 times already this season. The squeeze bunt can be broken into two different categories, the safety squeeze, which means the base runner does not start running home until the bunt has been laid down, and the suicide squeeze, which means the man on the bases is barreling home as soon as he sees the opportunity to get a good jump. Let’s break down each of the Brewers squeeze bunts, and discuss why they were successful :


The Cuban Fad

If today’s reports involving the Dodgers signing Yasiel Puig its just another indication of the Cuban invasion occurring in Major League Baseball. This is great for Major League Baseball, mostly because it means that our country is continuing to stockpile all of the best  baseball talent in the world. American scouts have been invading Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Latin American countries and mining for talent like prospectors at Sutter’s Mill in California in 1848. Cuba is just the latest market to be invaded by American scouts and they are signing any escaped players like its going out of style. Let’s take a look at some of the recent outfield players to receive big league contracts in 2012:


Josh Hamilton’s Best Week Ever

Josh Hamilton may very well be on his way to one of the best seasons in baseball history. He leads the entire major leagues in the Triple Crown categories, OPS+, and total bases. Over the past week, Hamilton has hit 8 homers, driven in 15 runs, been on base 2/3’s of the time, and has had one of the greatest individual games in baseball history. He won’t be able to keep up the pace he has set over the past week, but what kind of season is Hamilton looking at? Can he win the Triple Crown? Is 60 homers or 180 RBIs in the picture? Let’s take a look:

No player in professional baseball has hit for the Triple Crown since 1967, when Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a.326 batting average with 44 homers and 121 RBI. Hamilton is currently hitting .407/.463/.873 with 17 homers and 40 RBI on the year, which gives him a comfortable lead in all three categories.

Concerning batting average, Derek Jeter is 2nd in the AL in batting at .372 and the rest of the field isn’t even close. The next closest hitters, Ryan Sweeney and David Ortiz, are all more than .50 points behind Hamilton and probably won’t keep their average this high for very long. Given that Hamilton is already a batting champion from 2010, and that he has such a substantial early lead on the field, I think he’s a safe bet to win the batting title.

His home run title will also be tough to take, because he has a 6 homer lead over Edwin Encarnacion, Curtis Granderson, and Adam Dunn. Dunn and Granderson have slugger pedigree and a history of topping 40 homers, so they could be threats if Hamilton cools off. But its probably going to take more than 43 homers that Jose Bautista won the title with last season if any player wants to beat Hamilton.

He’s on a stretch of 8 homers in 17 at-bats, making him the 3rd player in history with 17 homers in his teams 1st 33 games. He’s on an unsustainable pace for 85 homers, due to the fact that such a high percentage of his hits are leaving the park. Hamilton has only 4 doubles and 27 singles to go along with all of the homers, and out of the 38 fly balls he has hit this season, 17 have left the yard. That rate is unsustainably high, and will probably have to come back down at some point. This kind of early production gives him a great head start toward an eye-popping total and  will probably put him over 55 for the season. That’s a number no other player is likely to top.

Finally Hamilton’s early RBI production has also been off-the-charts good. He’s got great hitters in front of him in the Texas lineup. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are speedsters who excel at aggressively running the bases, giving Hamilton extra RBI chances that many hitters do not get. 53 of his 118 at-bats, 45%,  have come with men on base and Hamilton has made pitchers pay, racking up a MLB leading 40 ribbies. If Hamilton can play in 150 of his teams games this year, that would put him on a pace to drive in 200 runs, which would be a major league record besting Hack Wilson’s 191 set in 1930.

Hamilton is currently on pace to have one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. He has always had injury problems, even missing an entire month from his 2010 MVP season. If Hamilton stays healthy he has the kind of swing that strikes fear in opposing pitchers, because he covers so much of the plate with so much power. I think he has the best chance of any player in the past 20 years of hitting for the Triple Crown, and with the way Hamilton is currently swinging the bat, I think he WILL do it.

Around the League:

-The Cubs and Brewers played an extremely entertaining game last night, with Milwaukee prevailing 8-7 in the 13th inning. Corey Hart was the hero, providing the game-tying 2-run homer in the 9th and the game winning hit in the 13th, a single up the middle past a drawn in Cubbie infield. Hart was 4-7 in the game with a homer and 3 RBI.

-Raul Ibanez continued to swing a powerful bat for the Yankees, smashing a 3-run homer off Felix Hernandez to give New York a 6-2 win. He now has 6 homers and 19 RBI during his age-40 season, and like a much more celebrated Yankee teammate, he continues to defy father time.

-Carlos Beltran is also having an excellent week for the Cardinals, batting .455 with 5 homers and 12 RBI over his past 5 games. He’s now hitting .307/.410/.658 for the year with a National League leading 12 homers.

April’s All-Stars: National League

Now that we’ve taken a look at the American League’s best, let’s take a look at the best the Senior Circuit has to offer.

Catcher- Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

Molina gets a slight edge over Buster Posey because he plays the position everyday, rather than playing half his games at 1st base. Molina has been excellent with the bat so far, hitting .316 with 4 homers and 15 RBI. He even has 2 stolen bases so far, half of his entire total from 2011. He has always been the finest of the catching Molina’s with his glove work, and now, in his age-29 season, the bat is starting to catch up.

1st base- Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs

LaHair has been given his 1st real shot in the big leagues at 29 and has not disappointed so far. In 20 games he has hit .390/.471/.780 with 5 homers and 14 RBI. Very few players are ever given their first crack at the Major Leagues at 29 and his early success has been one of baseball’s best stories so far. If LaHair could finish around .280 with 20+ homers, numbers that are very realistic, the Cubs will have gotten an absolute steal at 1st base.

2nd base- Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

Another surprise out of the NL Central has been the play of the Astros’ 2nd baseman. Altuve is very green at only 21 years of age, but has been smacking extra-base hits all over the field batting .360/.404/.547 with 11 XBH. The Astros have been surprisingly feisty so far, and Altuve is one of the major reasons why. His speed game is also excellent, having stolen 4 bases without being caught.

Shortstop- Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

The 2nd Cub to grace the list, Castro is a singles hitting machine. He led the National League in hits a year ago, and is already back to his old tricks, piling up 30 hits already. He’s added some new moves as well, and has already stolen 10 bases, which puts him on pace to smash his previous career high of 22. Troy Tulowitzki is also playing well, but I’m giving the nod to Castro.

3rd base- David Wright, New York Mets

Wright gets the nod over Pablo Sandoval and David Freese at the National League’s deepest position. Wright leads all of baseball in on-base percentage, at a stellar .494, and is hitting a robust .389. He has been enjoying the moved in fences at Citi Field, bombing 3 homers already, putting him on pace to beat last season’s measly 14. He is also walking more than he is striking out, which is always an excellent sign that a hitter is really locked in at the plate.

Outfield- Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

Well, this one’s obvious. Kemp is leading everyone in everything, topping the National League in batting average, OPS, slugging, total bases, runs, hits, homeruns, and RBI. His defense in center has also been excellent, and his batting eye at the plate looks to be improved. He’s got an outside shot at hitting 60 homers, and a really long shot at hitting .400 for the season. This kind of production wins no-doubt-about-it MVPs.

Outfield- Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Outside of Matt Kemp, there are plenty of deserving candidates, and Ryan Braun is my first. Braun had been having a somewhat slow start to his MVP defense until last nights 3 homer, 1 triple, 6 RBI outburst. He’s now all the way up to 3rd in OPS for National League outfielders, and also has 7 homers total. He’s also showing last seasons 33 steals weren’t a fluke, as Braun has swiped 3 bases in 4 attempts.

Outfield- Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

Gonzalez snaps up the last of the available outfield spots, because of his all-around play. He’s 6th out of NL outfielders in OPS, 13th in steals, 8th in homers, and 4th in RBI.  His batting line: .303/.376/.539 with 4 homers, 4 steals, and 18 RBI. Other deserving candidates include: Andrew McCutchen, Michael Bourne, Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, and Chris Young, who was having a monster season before hitting the DL. If Young comes back and plays as well as he had been, the All-Star spot is his.

Right-handed Pitcher- Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

The ace of the best pitching staff in baseball so far has lived up to all the hype. Strasburg has pitched 5 games, compiling 32 innings and has struck out 34 while allowing 6 walks, 22 hits, and only 4 runs, giving him an ERA of 1.13. Hitters have looked overmatched against his powerful fastball and wipeout curveball. Strasburg is a legitimate Cy Young candidate if his team doesn’t shut him down first.

Left-handed Pitcher- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

For as dominant as Strasburg has been from the right side, Kershaw has been nearly as dominant from the left. He has a 1.78 ERA in 30.1 innings and has already struck out 28 batters to begin his Cy Young defense. His WHIP sits under 1.00 once again and he has only allowed 1 homer so far, which was his biggest weakness a season ago. If Strasburg is shut down, look for Kershaw to reap the rewards.

Relief Pitcher- Jonathan Paplebon, Philadelphia Phillies

Without the excellent rotation put together in Philly, the team would already be sunk. They spend a fortune for Paplebon to close the door on teams, and he has gotten the job done so far this year. Paplebon is striking out 1 batter per innings, has a tidy .90 WHIP, and a miniscule .90 ERA as well.