Castro powers Cubs To Victory Over Mets

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Well, as the old saying goes, “A win is a win.” Even though Jake Arrieta didn’t receive the victory over the New York Mets yesterday, the Cubs got the 2-1 win and that is why baseball is the team sport that it is.

So, here’s the difference between the Starlin Castro of last year and the one who takes to the field this season. Yesterday, Starlin Castro got a ninth inning home run to give the Cubs the eventual win. How good is that  you might say? Well, Starlin Castro would have swung at anything or if he was out in the infield, “OH look, there’s a monarch butterfly.”

Not Starlin Castro of this year. Nosiree Bob. This one waits for pitches, communicates with other players and focuses entirely on what happens at the plate. In other words, this is the Starlin Castro the Cubs dreamed he would be.

“That was a big one,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “When he hit it, it came off his bat, and we were hoping it would get away from [the right fielder] — and it just carried enough to get out. That was a big at-bat for him, big at-bat for us.”

Or perhaps it’s Rick Renteria that’s put the change in Castro. The communication driven Renteria isn’t the laid back Morning After/Night Before looking Dale Sveum. Do you honestly think Sveum would have challenged all those calls this year?

There’s also the triple threat of Baez/Rizzo/Castro that’s sending fear into opponents that wasn’t there last year.

But wait! Could we possibly see Jake Arrieta at the All Star game next season? it might happen. Even though the Cubs would love to rest their new ace a little bit, he’s liking the challenge this brings.

“I want to make every start that I have lined up throughout the end of September,” Arrieta said. “If something comes up, I guess that will be addressed. I’d love to stay in the mix and finish out on a high note.”

Although a post season has as about as much chance as Jim Morrison walking the streets of Paris, I think the Cubs should still compete until the end of the season. I’d love to see the new kids as well, but really what difference is it going to make? The off season will be here before long and then what?

I’m predicting a .500 season for next year.

Believe it.

—Mark

Can The Chicago Cubs Make The Playoffs?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Miami Marlins

It’s a simple straight forward question. Sure, they’re going to be many folks out there who’ll lynch me for even posing the question, but consider these event that have happened recently.

Yesterday, the Cubs beat the Marlins in a convincing win 6-1. The dynamic duo of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo led the attack with Castro belting out two RBI doubles and Rizzo had three hits.

Jake Arrieta had 11 strikeouts. He simply dominated and is giving Samardzija a run for his money.

Wait! There’s more. Nate Schierholtz crushed the leather into the second tiers outfield. It’s their first back to back road series win since last year.

“In terms of the way we’ve been performing, we’ve been playing well, and as long as we keep doing that, we give ourselves a chance,” manager Rick Renteria said.

The team has today off before hosting the Bucs tomorrow. Now, the Cubs need to win division series. That’s how champions are crowned. it’s going to be a tough haul for sure, but consider the recent promotion of star prospect, Kris Bryant to triple A Iowa. Could this mean an eventual promotion to the Cubs before season ending?

“Is he dominating Double-A right now? Of course he is,” The often coy Theo Epstein said. “Does that mean his development is complete? No.”

The Cubs are currently eight games back in the Wild Card hunt. We know that anything can happen in baseball as witnessed by the, Kansas “Holy crap, I didn’t see this coming.” Royals and their ten game winning streak. Who is their hitting coach? Dale Sveum. And who did he manage last year?

Exactly.

There’s another factor at work here. Joe Madden, arguably the game’s most respected manager and commander in Chief of the dismal Tampa Bay Rays believes that his team still has a shot. If that’s not believing, I don’t know what is.

So, do the Cubs have a shot this year?

“They’re playing pretty consistent baseball and having some really good at-bats in key situations, and all the cliches come into play — timely hitting, good pitching and defense,” Renteria said. “Hopefully, it continues. It’s a long season and consistency is important.”

Believe it.

—Mark

Cubs Get Their Phillies

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia Phillies

The Cubs needed that win last night in Philadelphia. Not because they have a shot in the standings for any mid season drive towards the playoffs, but simply they got hammered by the Pirates. Not so against the Phillies. In fact, Jake Arrieta garnered nine strikeouts and is clearly the Cubs ace this season. If the Cubs can’t be beat the Phillies then who can they beat?

“Looked like his ball had a lot of life,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He was obviously commanding the zone. Made some pitches when he needed to. Got us through seven innings and did a really good job.”

The other kid who did a great job and continues to do an amazing job this season is Starlin Castro. “Kid Castro” chipped in a two run shot in the fourth inning to receive his ninth homer this year.

Is this season a breakout year for the Cubs or is it a resume padding one for the North Siders? I have to admit, I took a running start and jumped on the Mike Quade and Dale Sveum bandwagons, but watching the passion of Rick Renteria this season has made me see the error in my ways. Quade always looked confused reading the lineup cards and Sveum reminded me of a bad hangover I once had. I think Renteria has come out of the dugout more this season then the other two combined. It says a lot when a manager sticks up for his guys and approaches the difficult duties of a Cubs Manager with a smile. When was the last time a Cubs Manager smiled?

It’s not a trivia question.

Believe it.

—Mark

Cubs Lose Opener But Win With Bonifacio

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates

How was your opening day? Let me tell you, the sun was shining and the temperature hit a balmy high of 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Now that’s baseball weather. The Cubs 1-0 loss to the Pirates was a letdown because both teams played hard and if the game is any indication to how the Cubs are going to play this year, well judging from Emilio Bonifacio’s performance, the Cubs are going to make it worth every penny that people pay to come to Wrigley Field this summer.

What can you say about the guy? Emilio went 4-5 and even though he got caught in the rundown, it was a play that would never have happened during the Sveum years. The Cubs need all the runs they can get so seeing Emilio run through those bases while keeping his eye on the guy at second making sure he’s in place. The Cubs got a bargain signing Bonifacio. As my son Darcy says,”Oh no Daddy, they left him stranded again.” That’s his favourite baseball term and he’s three years old. Obviously, he doesn’t watch the Cardinal’s games. Emilio Bonifacio will definitely lower those stranded runners.

As trade talks heat up with Jeff Samardzija, he goes on to pitch a beauty, well give credit where it’s due but Francisco Liriano pitched a good one too. I’m still on the fence with Samardzija. Does he want out of Chicago? or is it just for the money? I don’t know and don’t care. Keep throwing strikes and everyone will be happy.

“That’s what we’re looking for,” Samardzija said. “Obviously, we’re going to take a hit on [the number of] strikeouts, but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is keeping your pitch count down and getting your offense back in the dugout. That’s what we’re going to go for this year, is attacking the zone and making smart pitches and go for the strikeout when we need it, and ultimately just go out there and pitch so when you need the extra 20 pitches, we’ll be able to reach down and go get those.”

We saw the first challenge of the year when Samardzija bunted to the left and Pedro Alvarez threw to a covering Neil Walker at first. It was a clear out but Rick Renteria challenged it and goes into the history books.

Did you like the new Cubs road jerseys? I love them. If the Cubs have a miserable season, well they’ll go down looking good. That jersey is all ready on my Christmas list.

Game one. Believe it.

—Mark

The Cubs Hoping For The Best But…

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs

We’re into the home stretch before Opening Day 2014 and the Cubs didn’t disappoint. Ryan Sweeney let loose and crushed the ball to get his first home run of the Cactus League season. Travis Wood looked good and Wellington Castillo, Justin Ruggiano and even Darwin Barney. Yes, old Golden Glove Barney managed to get a hit.

So, are the Cubs ready for the season? I think they’re as ready as they can be for this year. The Cubs made the announcement that Mike Olt and Ryan Kalish made the cut.

This is great news. Let’s see more of Mike Olt this season. More than likely he’ll be at third.

“Olt had a great spring with the bat, his at-bats were very good, patient, aggressive, his swings were aggressive and he did a lot of damage and drove in a lot of runs,” Jed Hoyer said. “It was pretty clear if he was able to play third and get enough innings in and get enough reps, it was clear we wanted his bat in Wrigley.”

I think Javier Baez wanted his bat at Wrigley. Don’t worry Javy, we’ll be seeing you soon enough.

After this weekend the fate of the Chicago Cubs rests in Rick Rentiera’s capable hands. He’s going to be a great manager for the team and unlike some in the past like Lou Pinella who was in the twilight of his career and Mike Quade who was given the unenviable task of taking over a team that was falling apart. Was he a good coach? Somebody give Mike a second chance. Then there was Dale Sveum who in hindsight maybe wasn’t the right coach for a team in transition. Notice I didn’t use the term, “rebuilding”?

This is Rick’s team. He’s personable, capable and likes to laugh a lot which is probably the most important skill to have this year. Will he lose his job if the Cubs don’t live up to expectations? They’ve got nowhere else to go. Please Theo and Jed, this is the guy.

“Every time we came into Chicago, I felt this would be the place I would want to be a part of,” Renteria said. “I feel very comfortable here. I feel I’ve been welcomed by everyone. It’s a tremendously joyous spring and a very productive spring, and I’m looking forward to being part of the Chicago Cubs organization.”

Believe it.

Mark

Cubs Witness Royalty

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The Cubs are still in the hunt for their first win of the 2014 Cactus League campaign. Is anyone surprised? Not really. it’s to be expected by fans, management and team alike. They are after all, evaluating and trying to see the pop within the group and where every player is going to fit in with the 2014 edition of the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs have players that are hitting for power in Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. They have their potential leads off man in Starlin Castro and their stable of young players. So where does the team stand so far? After three games and no wins(not counting the two cancelled games on the weekend) Not bad.

Castro left the game against the Royals early with a hamstring injury which isn’t too serious and should work itself out soon. There’s competition in camp for the lead off spot between Castro and Emilio Bonifacio.

“Starlin has the ability to put the bat on the ball pretty much anywhere,” Renteria said. “He handles the bat, he can manipulate the barrel quite well. He could fit in the [No. 2] slot quite easy. He’s a guy who was a 200-hit a year guy, so that’s a lot of hits. Having a guy who can get on base whether through a walk or hit is pretty good.”

It’s Starlin’s job for the taking. He needs the lead off to really elevate his game to the next level.

So here’s the thing: The Cubs are 0-3 while the Toronto Blue Jays are 3-2. While the comparisons between the two teams are minimal, with Dioner Navarro making the switch to the north; I believe the Jays have a lot riding on this year`s edition of the Blue Birds. While the Cub are really trying to find their swing and despite this year`s struggles that the Cubs will face, they`re in that good spot where they can be the team they want to be in the future.

It`s good to see Dale Sveum at third base.

Arizona`s looking good this time of year. It`s -22 Celsius up here and hopefully they`ll spread some sunshine and warmth up here.

—Mark

A New Skipper, A Fresh Start, An End To A Curse?

If anyone has to wonder about the excitement I get from spring baseball, here it is:

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That is the scene from our backyard up here in the Great White North.

This is what’s happening now in Arizona:

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I see the difference, do you see the difference?

There’s no other way to describe it. It’s been a long drawn out winter up here. Some have said it’s been the most snow where we live in twenty years. Is this an omen? Perhaps.

There’s a certain excitement this year surrounding the Cubs. More so than any season in a long time. There’s no big free agent signings, no Soriano and most importantly; there’s nothing to lose.

We have a new manager in Rick Reinteria

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and a stable of young players waiting to strut their stuff. This truly is the best part of the season and I’m going to make a bold prediction on the starting lineup.

1. Starlin Castro
2. Luis Valbuena or Mike Olt
3. Nate Schierholtz
4. Anthony Rizzo
5. Junior Lake
6. Wellington Castillo
7. Ryan Sweeney
8. Darwin Barney

Of course this could and will change because nothing is secure at third base. That spot is wide open. We could see Kris Bryant this year. Hell, Albert Almora could see some action. Or, holy crap there’s Jorge Soler.

it’s unbelievable to think of the possibilities that could happen within the Cubs organization. I’m excited to see what the new skipper, Rick Reinteria can do. He’s the complete opposite from the reserved and let’s face it, Dale Sveum always appeared to be hung-over. Not to say I didn’t like him, I thought he did a fantastic job with what he had, but in order to succeed to the next level, the Cubs need a skip that is vocal, fresh and not battle scarred because folks, that’s what will happen in the major leagues.

Rick Reinteria is the man who will lead this franchise back into the post season. Maybe not this year, but I guarantee it will be next year. That’s a promise. Save me a seat behind the dugout, Rick. I’ll be there.

Should Starlin Castro hit lead off? You better believe it. Hitters want to hit. There’s no other way around it. If he’s going to get out of this slump that he’s in, Starlin Castro has to hit his way out of it.

I’m going to assume that Mike Olt will secure third base from Valbuena. He’s got a lot to prove and with a young club this is the guy to do it.

Nate Schierholtz had an OBP of .301 last year. His slugging percentage was .470 compared to Rizzo’s .419 He’ll hit above him.

There’s one guy who may suffer from the sophomore jinx and that is Junior Lake. Naw, I’m messing with you. He’s going to show Cubs fans the future.

Third on the team in OBP was Wellington Castillo. I’m putting him in the sixth spot at the start just to see how he’s going to do. I think Lake will get on base more this year but Castillo has got some pop so having him hit behind Junior will give him the confidence he’ll need. This spot will change.

Rounding out the order is Ryan Sweeney and Darwin Barney. I liked Ryan Sweeney a lot last year. He finished the season tied for third on the team in triples. This is a good statistic to have when you’re hitting lower in the order I would believe.

There’s one player other than Starlin Castro that has a lot to prove and that is Darwin Barney. A Gold Glove winner and a future team captain. He’s got to show everyone what he can do at the plate.

Tomorrow is a big game, Let’s Play Ball!

—Mark