Every Story Needs a Villan

Scott Hairston was traded to the Washington Nationals for a pitching prospect following yesterday's game against the Pirates.

Scott Hairston was traded to the Washington Nationals for a pitching prospect following yesterday’s game against the Pirates.

Not only did the Cubs win yesterday, beating the smoking Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3, but Scott Hairston, who belted a home run, was traded to the Washington Nationals for a Class A pitching prospect.

“I was happy to contribute today, and it was nice getting the win,” Hairston said.

Carlos Villanueva got things rolling but it was a team effort because the bullpen was utilized. Hector Rondon, newcomer Pedro Strop, James Russell and Blake Parker all contributed in yesterday’s performance.

“You always don’t dwell too much about it, because I had to pitch out of the bullpen,” Villanueva said of thoughts of returning to the rotation. “I threw in some key situations out of the bullpen. I threw in the eighth inning a couple of times. It’s in the back of the mind, but you’ve got to get people out whenever you put me in.”

I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of shuffling and musical chairs for the rest of the season when it comes to the mound since the departure of Scott Feldman.

The Hero of The Day goes to Dioner Navarro, who got a walk off sacrifice to seal the deal after Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano got on base. Tony Rizzo scored.

So, where do the Cubs go from here? I see the Hairston trade as a positive move. In fact, I kind of anticipated it. It makes sense. Hopefully, they won’t have to trade Garza.

The only bad thing about yesterday’s victory was Darwin Barney’s errorless streak came to an end, but it was better to end the streak on a winning note.

“(The ball) hit my middle finger straight on,” Barney said. “It popped up on the lip (of the infield grass) and took a turn on the outfield grass. That’s what you have to deal with. That’s what outfielders deal with every day with the ball snaking like that. I will have to work on that.”

The Cubs don’t have far to go today as they travel cross town to meet their city rivals, the Chicago White Sox. Matt Garza gets the ball and game time is 8:10pm

–Mark

Cubs Go For Series Win On Fourth of July

Luis Valbuena
Happy 4th of July my American friends and readers! Have fun and celebrate!!!

Matt Garza was awesome as he lead the Chicago Cubs to 3-1 victory that saw the North Siders get 12 hits. Yesterdays stellar pitching performance may have been an audition for another club, or it could be a case for Garza staying with the Cubs after this month. One thing is for sure, the Cubs are 11 1/2 back of the wild card but last night they played like they want to win it all. Now, that’s baseball.

“We’re scratching and clawing our way back,” Garza said. “I think we’re in one of the toughest divisions now. Going to keep playing and keep going and see where it ends up.”

Kevin Gregg recorded his 14th save of the season and Luis Valbuena garnered his seventh home run in the win.

There’s a great quote in Rocky when Appollo Creed’s trainer turns to him and says,

“He doesn’t think it’s a show, he thinks it’s a damn fight!”

The Cubs are in a similar situation right now. They’re 11 1/2 back of the Wild Card and are in position to beat the Athletics and take the series today. They’re a much improved ball club over last year so really they’re exactly where management and Cubs fans expect them to be. The rest is just gravy.

“Our two biggest problems obviously are (lack of hitting with) men in scoring position and closing out games with the bullpen,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Those are things we’ve got to get better at.”

Dale Sveum is right on the nose with that. Although, they’re two of the most crucial things in the game, the Cubs are a much better team than last year. Why can’t they drive runners home and why do they lead the league in blown saves with 17?

After the initial shock of seeing Scott Feldman being traded, it’s making a little more sense in the Cubs are gaining a much needed boost with power pitching in Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta.

So, a new season starts today on your Independence Day, the 4th of July! Let’s celebrate with Travis Wood and the Cubs as they try to take the series from the Athletics. Game time is 4:05 eastern.

–Mark

Feldmania No More & The Cubs Get An Athletic Workout

Alfonso Soriano blasts a three Run Homer.

Alfonso Soriano blasts a three Run Homer.

Yesterday was a busy day for the Cubs. Beloved starting pitcher Scott Feldman, was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta.

When I first heard the news I was stunned. I thought it would have been Matt Garza being traded but he could still go before the deadline of July 31.

“I don’t think this team improves by trading Scott Feldman,” Jeff Samardzija said. “He was one of our better pitchers. He’s thrown a lot of innings, a solid dude, a solid guy in the clubhouse.

It’s too early to tell but in some ways I agree with Jeff because I didn’t see this one happening at all. However, I do trust Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s decision. They get paid to study the game and I’ll bet a Toonie to a Loonie that they’ve got a trick up their sleeve.

“It’s never easy to give up a guy who has performed well for you, but to have two power arms is important.” Jed Hoyer said.

The Cubs didn’t stop there. Carlos Marmol went to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Matt Gurrier and some draft picks.

This deal was a little less surprising. Marmol was overstaying his welcome in Chicago and for some strange reason, he wasn’t throwing them like he used to a couple of years ago. It’s too bad because I thought he has a lot of talent, but I’m glad he gets a chance for a fresh start in Los Angeles. They’re a team that is still very much in it and acquiring Marmol could be the key that will turn it over for the Dodgers. Break a leg Carlos!

“The decision [to designate him] really came down to it that he had become a distraction. It became hard to pitch as well as he could, because every time he threw two balls, he’d get booed, and I don’t think that’s easy for anybody.” Hoyer said.

So, with the new acquisitions, does it make the Cubs a better team? We’ll have to wait and see, but I can tell you that this season has been really exciting to watch and every change that happens is good at this point.

Now, onto Oakland—

It was a valiant effort by the Chicago Cubs as they lost their first visit to Oakland, 8-7. Chris Rusin was called up in place of Scott Feldman but was replaced in the bottom of the fourth by Carlos “The Villan” Villanueva.

After the Cubs led 7-5, it was a home run off of James Russell by Derek Norris that sealed the win for the Athletics. The Cubs lost the momentum after that.

“You go to sleep and start a new day,” Russell said. “That’s the thing about baseball. You get your butt kicked one night and you get to wake up and do the same thing all over again.”

I wouldn’t call yesterday’s game a butt kicking because the Cubs went toe to toe against the Athletics proving that there is something special percolating within this young Cubs organization.

“It’s almost comical to see this happen every single night,” Dale Sveum said. “We have the lead and get beat by guys who sometimes hardly even hit home runs. Norris had one at-bat off a left-hander in 15 days and beats us with a three-run homer.”

Alfonso Soriano had another huge game for the Cubs hitting a three run home run in the fourth inning. Way to go Fonzi!

Matt Garza gets the start today as the Cubs are looking for redemption against the Athletics. Game time is 10:05pm eastern.

—Mark

Cubs Come Up Short Against The Mariners

chicago-cubs-v-seattle-mariners-20130629-025804-895

It was close but the Chicago Cubs couldn’t hang on for the win and watched the Seattle Mariners beat them 5-4 after 10 innings.

Travis Wood had a great game almost completing seven innings and striking out six but it was his support staff that couldn’t come through.

James Russell had his fifth blown save this year.

“The outcome is the outcome,” Travis Wood said. “I wish I would’ve had it, but it is what it is. They played a good game, and so did we. Things are going to turn around at some point and we’re going to start winning these games.”

Darwin Barney continued his errorless streak and now sits at 64.

So the story continues with the Cubs this season. It’s learning curves and close ones. Great pitching and some good plays, but it’s the end of the games and the ability to shut things down that have plagued the Cubs throughout the 2013 season. The Cubs are second in the National League with extra base hits, but they’re not able to capitalize on those opportunities.

Are they a young team with bursts of genius in them? Nobody can use that card all the time and pretty soon the Cubs will have to drop the, “Rebuilding” moniker from their media releases, newspaper and other sources.

There will come a time when the team is competitive and a force to be reckoned with. I’m happy that the Cubs don’t do the manager shuffle like some teams do when things don’t go their way. It’s stability and continuity that win championships.

“We’re out there, giving everything we’ve got,” Wood said. “Things are going to turn around at some point. We’ll start winning these games and not falling short.”

I love this club a lot and take great joy in watching those occasional bursts of brilliance in their play, but for the rest of the season, the Cubs shouldn’t panic and I don’t feel that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Dale Sveum are the types to do that. Make a couple of trades at the deadline. perhaps it’s Garza that has to go, but do they trade for draft picks? No. Their farm system is excellent and the prospects will be there. Now is the time to grab that quality player who can help the team finish those games. Someone who’ll score on those extra base hits or someone who can drive home those RISP’s-Geez, that sounds like an investment strategy.

The Cubs and Mariners retro jerseys circa 1909

The Cubs and Mariners retro jerseys circa 1909

The “Shark” Jeff Samardzija takes to the mound as the Cubs and the Mariners turn back the clock all the way back to 1909 with their throwback Saturday. They’re sharp looking jerseys! Game time is 7:15 eastern.

–Mark

Cubs Give Milwaukee Taste of Their Own Brew

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers

As trade winds are blowing for Matt Garza and possibly others, the Cubs gave Milwaukee a taste of homebrew when they handed them a 7-2 beating at Miller Park.

“It’s a blast when they spot you with seven (runs) before the fifth inning,” Garza said. “My job was just to put up a zero every time we scored and not let them get any momentum.”

Garza was exceptional in the win gaining 10 strikeouts in the game. With the win, the Cubs take their first series win at Miller park since 2010.

There are many questions as the trade talks loom over certain player’s heads. Even though Matt Garza is great trade bait, I don’t want to see him dealt because he can provide much needed leadership in the rotation. He’s gotten back from his injury and has played extremely well so it would be a shame to see him go. on the other hand, I think if I had to pick between Nate Schierholtz or Garza being traded I’d go with Garza and only because I think the Cubs would get a good market value in the trade depending on what is available.

“Obviously there are a lot of calls this time of year. We have a number of guys performing really well, including some guys who are under contract or under control for years to come. So it’s not like we’re rushing out to trade those guys. We owe it to the organization to see if there is something that makes us a lot better.” said Theo Epstein.

Ok, so I’ve touched on this before but the Cubs are second in the National League with Extra Base Hits at 247 going into the game, so why aren’t they higher in the standings? You’d think that extra base hits would equal more runs. Discuss.

on the plus side, Dioner Navarro walloped a three run home run which was his 7th of the season in the third inning to give the Cubs a 6-0 lead. He played a heck of a game.

The Cubs try to continue their winning ways today when they meet the Mariners. Game Time is 7:10 Pacific.

–Mark

Roll Out The Barrels

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers

It was too close for comfort last night, but the Cubs held on in the ninth inning to grab a 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Cubs closer Kevin Gregg recorded his twelfth save of the season but it happened in dramatic fashion after giving up a home run to Juan Francisco and a Rickie Weeks double.

Whew!

“You have a calm [with Gregg], because you know he’s not going to implode with walks and stuff like that,” Dale Sveum said. “They’re going to have to get their hits to beat him. The times that he’s given up a run, they’ve hit the ball. He doesn’t walk guys. He knows how to pitch. He knows, ‘If I throw strikes, they have to get hits to beat me.’ We’ve seen many closers over the years do a nice job just because they don’t walk anybody.”

Tony Rizzo celebrated his one year anniversary by getting the winning run, congratulations Tony.

This game almost felt like a playoff game because the Brewers and the Cubs play each other very hard. Unfortunately, the Brewers have come out on top most of the time.

So where are the Cubs after last nights victory? This time last year they were 27-49 as compared to 32-44. Not a bad improvement but they’re getting better. Last night’s nail biter also proved that the Cubs can hang on to those wins in the ninth. Even if they did get lucky.

That’s what this season has been all about really. Tweaking the team bit by bit for when the prospects finally get their chance in the big leagues.

The Cubs try to close out the series today with a win when Matt Garza gets the call. Game time is 2:20 pm eastern

–Mark

Darwin Barney Nearly Hits For Cycle

Darwin Barney fell just shy of the cycle just needing a triple.

Darwin Barney fell just shy of the cycle just needing a triple.

Matt Garza pitched a beauty of a game and Tony Rizzo walloped a home run in the fourth inning. Let’s not forget Mr. Darwin Barney coming just shy of going for the cycle when all he needed was a triple.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn something watching those Cardinal hitters as well,” Barney said. “They just have a good approach.”

Now, didn’t I tell you the Cardinals took the Cubs back to school? The education paid off.

I think this was Matt Garza’s best effort since coming back from injuries.

“His fastball had life and he had command of it down and away and in,” manager Dale Sveum said. “His slider got better as the game went on. ”

Even though, Garza only gave up four hits, it was a combination of three home runs by Rizzo, Barney and Scott Hairston that contributed to this balanced win.

All year, it’s been great pitching performances that have carried the Cubs, but this is what happens when their “Go-To Guys” are hitting, the Cubs will win more games.

The other area that the Cubs need work on is their RISP. Yesterday, they went 0 for 3. That has to change. Let’s just compare the Toronto Blue Jays win over the Orioles last night. The Blue Jays went 3 for 6 and they’ve won nine in a row. This isn’t a very accurate statistic in regards to how well a team performs but driving in those runs will help a team win championships.

So, let’s look at a better statistic is of course, RBI’s.

The Boston Red Sox are at the top of the standings and it’s no surprise that they lead all clubs in RBI’s

“That’s the way we’ve scored all year — slugging percentage and home runs,” Sveum said. “Even though we have gone through 2 1/2 months of seeing a lot of pitches, we still don’t seem to get the walks. That’s how we score — home runs and doubles.”

Stick to what works, but they have to work on lowering the RISP and getting those runners in before the Cubs wind up, “One hit wonders”.

This team can do it and today they can make it two in a row when my pick for All Star Travis Wood, takes to the mound at 4:05 eastern.

—Mark

No Marmol- Aid on the Table

Carlos Marmol(49) walks to the dugout as Kirk Niewenhuis celebrates.

Carlos Marmol(49) walks to the dugout as Kirk Niewenhuis celebrates.

I feel bad for Carlos Marmol, I really do. The Cubs took a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning only to have it slip away from their grasp as the New York Mets went on to defeat the Cubs 4-3.

Baseball is a funny game where it seems like there isn’t a lot of stress and I’ll be the first to admit that. Managers and players chewing gum and spitting sunflower seeds on the tips of their shoes in the dugout. Hell, what do players think about in the outfield as they’re kicking divets of grass and adjusting their ball caps?

That’s on the surface. underneath it all, baseball is a very stressful game. It’s a game of stats, of lineups and of velocity.

So, how hard can baseball be?

When your team is up 3-0 and it’s the bottom of the ninth and you have three outs left to wrap it up and go home. That’s how freakin’ damn hard baseball can be.

“The guy it’s toughest on right now is Marmol,” Matt Garza said. “He tries really hard and he wants it really bad, but it just happens.”

Yes it does. Stuff happens. Matt Garza was pitching a great game and even though he watched it go for nought, he knows what Carlos Marmol is feeling right now when he powers up his IPAD this morning and reads the Chicago headlines about the defeat and about the loss of a sweep.

Other teammates were frustrated and rightfully so. Ask Alfonso Soriano:

“When we have a 99 (percent) chance to win the game, it’s very tough the last inning,” he said. “Three outs left and we lost the game. It’s unacceptable, especially when we’re winning 3-0 and Garza’s pitching a very good game.

I’m sure there’s going to be lots of criticism this morning and finger pointing, but lets get it right;

“There are only certain people that can get those last three outs sometimes,” Dale Sveum said. “We all know that he’s gotten a lot of saves in his career. But for some reason now … he doesn’t quite have the slider he used to, so it’s not that easy. But something is going on in the other innings that’s not going on in the last inning.”

Before anyone screams for Carlos Marmol’s head, think about what it’s going to do to his mental game. Carlos Marmol has great stuff and whatever he’s going through, he’ll get it back. He’s erratic, unpredictable and wild. When he’s in the zone, he’s a legend. He’ll get it back.

Right now, the Cubs have another daunting task ahead of them. Shelby Miller and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Game Time is 7:05 eastern.

–Mark

Have You Met Feldmania, New York?

Scott Feldman uses his head as he slides into third base.

Scott Feldman uses his head as he slides into third base.

If Scott Feldman was chosen to lead by example, then the Cubs probably would be in first place in the National League Central Division. The wily pitcher known around baseball as “Feldmania” taught the New York Mets a lesson yesterday as Feldman and the Cubs upset the Mets 5-2 and pushing the Cubs’ win streak to three games.

All right, Scott Feldman brings back the memories of sandlot baseball where a pitcher was never an easy out and could be just as dangerous at the plate as that big bully from up the street that picks his nose and wipes it on the handle of the bat just to scare you.

Scott Feldman the pitcher, got a two run single allowing Tony Rizzo and Scott Hairston to score.

Welcome to Feldmania New York.

“We have pitchers who can hit,” Dale Sveum said. “It might be one of those things where you just stick with the pitcher for a while and see what happens that way. We have Travis Wood and Feldman, they all can swing that bat to where if you get in a bind late in a game, or even early in a game, you can use one of those guys and not spend a position player.”

Mr. Feldman was also aggressive on the bag, going from first to third and sliding with his noggin’ first.

If the Cubs can’t lead in the standings, they’re certainly not going to go out without some excitement.

“It makes it more fun,” Feldman said. “It makes it like you’re a little kid again playing baseball, the real way you remember when you were a kid.”

Thank you Scott, well said.

Matt Garza and the Cubs look to extend their winning streak when they face the Mets again at 1:10 pm eastern. It’ll be Blue Bat day.

Happy Father’s Day!

—Mark

Matt Garza Struggles In 12-2 Loss

Matt Garza2

It was ugly last night. Really ugly. The Cubs lost to the Reds 12-2 in a game that ran away from Chicago in the sixth inning when Jay Bruce doubled. That’s what got the ball rolling and the Cubs tried to dig themselves out of a very deep hole.

Matt Garza struggled on the mound. To be fair, Cincinnati has been amazing all year.

“With him, it’s all about fastball command and keeping the ball down,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “When he does that, he can throw a really good game. Every pitcher, it’s going to be about his fastball command, and what happens with that will dictate the game.”

It wasn’t so much as to what the Cubs did wrong, but to how good the Reds were. They beat them in pitching and at the plate.

Cody Ransom continues to impress, hitting a home run in the sixth inning, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Reds.

This was the eleventh straight loss to the Reds at Wrigley Field, now, I’m not superstitious, but there’s something wonky happening there.

“It’s one of those days,” Matt Garza said, adding: “This lies on my shoulders.”

The best thing the Cubs can do is put it behind them and focus on today’s matchup when Travis Wood faces Mike Leake. Game time is 2:20 eastern. This is game three of the four game series and I think the Cubs can steal the game today from the Reds.

My prediction? Starlin Castro is going to have a huge day.

“Starlin is so talented he never really has failed before,” Theo Epstein said. “This is the first extended stretch of failure he really has had. It’s tough when you go through that the first time at the big league level, and are already being a player who is relied upon by his teammates, already being on a multi-year contract. It’s tougher for him, but in the long run this will be really good for him.”

—Mark