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

September 30, 2015


Theo Epstein is cruising toward the end of his Cubs contract in 2016. Tom Ricketts said this week he would talk to Epstein about an extension "pretty soon."  But will he?

Ricketts also said this week despite the Cubs on-field success,  added revenues from attendance and TV ratings does not mean that next year's team’s payroll will greatly rise.

Ricketts told reporters  "Theo [Epstein] will have some resources this offseason,” Ricketts said.  “But I don’t know how (much). And I’m not sure he’ll find something he wants to do with ‘em. It’s up to him….Obviously, winning helps the payroll analysis, (but) it’s not about payroll anymore.  The fact is, the correlation between the dollars you spend and the wins you get on the field is going down every single year.  So in order to have sustainable success, you can’t count on money. You have to count on young talent. You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve gone out and built the best facilities in baseball. We’ve scouted well. We’ve drafted well. I think we’re developing well."

There have been critics, such as myself, who disagreed with the Epstein rebuild philosophy: tank for several seasons, get high draft choices, overspend in the international market and sell "hope" in the future.  As a big money market team, the Cubs could have done a balanced rebuild: emphasize scouting, player development and sign free agents to continue to be a competitive team. The Yankees follow that plan. Even the Cardinals follow that plan.

But perhaps Epstein was secretly handcuffed into doing a "cheap" rebuild through the draft, and left with fielding major league teams with journeymen players.

You never hit on all your prospects. And as good as the new kids have been, more often than not the league will catch up to them. Jorge Soler has a full year in the majors, and his progress has stalled. Kyle Schwarber looked lights out hitting above .300 but now has faded to the .240s. There will still be growing pains on the roster.

But the way Epstein drafted to build this team was to use high picks on the best hitters available. This works okay, but it leaves a deficit in pitching (even though in the last 3 drafts, almost 50% of the draftees have been pitchers - - - Epstein has failed to develop and promote one Cub drafted pitching prospect.) The Mets have used the opposite approach: focus on developing young arms and then buy hitters in free agency.

Epstein is stuck with trying to find solutions to a pitching staff that seems to have fallen backwards. The bullpen has been overtaxed; Maddon is not using everyone in the pen in September; and the No. 3, 4, and 5 starters have been less than stellar. There are no stud pitching prospects in the Cubs farm system.

If the Cubs are going to be competitive in 2016, there has to be a major resource commitment to pitching, expensive pitching. But Ricketts has already forewarned that the payroll is not going to rise significantly. That means no David Price, Zack Greinke or Jordan Zimmerman. 

So the writing may be already on the new brick outfield wall. The Cubs may not be in a position to spend more money to be more competitive in 2016. The Ricketts are funneling resources into the vast real estate development outside the ball park under the guise of "saving" Wrigley Field for the fans. 

Will Epstein even want to stay when the baseball operations are tied by the business side, Crane Kenney and Ricketts? 

In many situations, the President of the baseball team talks directly to the owner to set a baseball budget. Then it is the President that administers the budget.  But in the Cubs case, the financials are handled by non-baseball people. It is like a little kid asking his parents for an increase in his allowance. And with the large debt load and construction costs, daddy Ricketts is keeping his coin purse clamped shut.

With the Cubs success this year, one would have thought that Epstein and Jed Hoyer's contracts would have been locked up by September 1st. What more do they have to prove to ownership? A World Series championship?

During the ill-timed wild card celebration, it was Ricketts who moved center stage to celebrate the "organization's" triumph, the return to post-season play. There may be a power struggle and self-conceit on the business side for the success of the baseball team. And that type of strain Epstein is familiar with: it happened to him in Boston. 

The Cubs turnaround puts Epstein in Golden Boy status. He can hit the open market and get his value and more importantly, more control of an organization. There are several big spending teams that are in the market for young, aggressive baseball men - - - Toronto and Seattle. And no one really knows how long the Yankees will keep Brian Cashman, even though he signed an extension through 2017. Epstein winding up with the Yankees would be the ultimate payback against the Red Sox.

If Epstein stays with the Cubs, expect that he will try to wrestle more business control from Ricketts. But realize that Ricketts is more invested in turning Wrigley Field and its real estate into a year round entertainment complex (maximizing revenue) than spending more money on one tenant, the Cubs. 

September 28, 2015


It looks like an old fashioned, Old West Wild Card Duel.

Jake Arrieta against Gerrit Cole on October 7, 2015 in the wild card game.

Arrieta has faced the Pirates 5 times this season. His record is 3-1.

Over 36 IP, he has allowd 18 H, 3 ER, 8 BB, 33 K for a 0.722 WHIP.

Cole has faced the Cubs 4 times this season. His record is 2-1.

Over 25.1 IP, Cole has allowed 20 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 32 for a 0.947 WHIP.

Arrieta has an ERA against the Pirates of 0.75.
Cole has an ERA against the Cubs of 2.13 ERA.

Arrieta has walked more Pirates per game than Cole.
Cole has more strikeouts per game than Arrieta.

But based on the metrics, Arrieta seems to have an advantage in the Wild Card game over Cole.

But there are variables in play. Arrieta has been getting better as the season has progressed. The home plate umpire and the unpredictable strike zone can either help or hurt the pitcher. And it may come down to defense. Depending on Maddon's choices, Pirates would have an advantage in defensive WAR.

The Cubs-Pirates Wild Card game clearly is going to be a low scoring, old school pitcher's duel.