Cubs Have Only One Thing Left To Do, “Win The Whole Thing”

I really didn’t see this one coming. Last night’s victory came down to the Duke of Welington Castillo and his three run rocker into the stands. A nice souvenir that one. 6-3

“Welington got a good fastball, got a pitch up to hit and did a nice job with it,” Rick Renteria said. “I don’t think he was thinking too much in terms of innings. I think he just wanted to get in there and do his job and he got a good pitch to handle, and he drove it out of the ballpark.”

There’s a question circulating from the bleachers and that is, “What are they going to do with Jose Veras?” I even heard that some people are yelling, “We want Marmol back!” No, I made that one up. Veras is 0-2 so what should the Cubs do? Yeah, it’s not even a month into the season so hopefully he can iron out the kinks, but if I were Renteria, I’d be keeping someone on standby.

The Cubs were lucky to squeeze out that victory, but they fought back which if anyone has anything nice to say about the 2014 edition of the North Siders is that they’re gutsy and similar to the 1988 Cleveland Indians with Ricky Vaughn on the mound. Wait a minute.

The fact that the Cubs took game one away from the much despised St. Louis Cardinals is a great victory that will carry forth into today’s matchup when Carlos “The Villain” Villanueva takes on the great Adam Wainwright. This is the key game in the series. Yesterday, I said that if the Cubs can take the series away from the Cardinals it would be a turning point for the team this year but really, if they can beat Wainwright then the Cubs, who are four games behind the surprising Brewers can remain in the hunt for the Central.

With Emilio Bonifacio’s amazing young season, the Cubs must decide what to do with Gold Glove winner, Darwin Barney. Do they trade him or keep him. All clichés point to Dancing With The One Who Got You There and Bonifacio is the guy this season so they’ve got to use him.

“I’m still getting used to finding ways to get myself prepared during the game,” Barney said. “In the past, off-days were to rest. Now, I have to find a way to be mentally prepared for that first at-bat, which could be a big at-bat in the game. For me, that’s the mindset I’m taking. I’ve got a ‘C’ on my chest, and we’re trying to win as many games as I can.”

Darwin Barney is quite a guy and he’ll help out the team any way he can.

—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

The Cubs Call Poison Control After Loss To Diamondbacks

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks

What’s to be said about a 14-4 dismantling at the hands of the Diamondbacks that Cubs fans all over haven’t all ready said to themselves, to their television screens and to anything that happens to be in the way?

That sucked.

The Cubs got into it early when Nate Schierholtz and Wellington Castillo hammered out a couple of RBI’s in the fourth inning to propel the Cubs in front of the Arizona Snakes 2-1, but it was all Arizona after that. It’s a good thing games like that don’t count because nobody would want that game back.

The Diamondbacks hit six effin’ homers. While I’m trying to remain positive this season, games like that are difficult to keep a straight face at.

Donnie Murphy was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers and George Kotteras was placed on waivers yesterday. These are good moves because Mike Olt is looking more and more as the candidate to take on third base while John Baker will provide Wellington Castillo the backup he needs.

“He’s a vocal guy and he’s a smart dude,” Jeff Samardzija said of Baker. “You definitely enjoy a cerebral catcher for sure. It’s nice even when he’s not catching that he’s paying attention to the game and is locked in. Even after the game, you can bounce ideas off him.

So we’re pretty close to seeing the team that will lead the 2014 edition of the Chicago Cubs onto the field next week.

Opening Day is Monday the 31st, but the Cubs home opener isn’t until next Friday. Does anyone have any special Opening Day traditions?

—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

The Cubs Have A Shot This Year!

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I’ve hummed and hawed during the off season if I’d be blogging again this year but here I am again. Tomorrow is the start of spring training, The Cubs are tied for first and my MLB.TV subscription is on stand by. 

One of my spring traditions is to get a baseball annual. It could be Sporting News, Lindy’s or Athlone, it doesn’t matter but I’ve found that Sporting News is my favourite. It’s got awesome pictures and great predictions. although last year they predicted the Boston Red Sox to finish fifth in the AL East and look what happened? C’mon, if you weren’t a Red Sox fan last season, by the time David Ortiz cracked one over the back with Torri Hunter flipping over and cracking his skull, then a part of you and all of us are rooting for the crimson sock wearing bean towners this year. Bostonians are such awesome folks.

You see, where I’m going with this is I’m a Cubs fan. Sporting News generously predicts the Cubs to finish fourth in the Central. Last season Boston won it all. Now is the picture becoming clearer? If there is one team with nothing else to lose, it’s the Cubs. They’re young,  picked on constantly and supposedly have the best farm in the country.

They could be the sleeper of the season. Don’t let Starlin Castro fool you. He’s talented and a hot shot. Last year, he was unfocused and perhaps it was the birth of his son, the legal trouble or just plain stupidity. He’s going to be different this year. He has to surpass his expectations or he will be just a casuality in the pile of what could have been. He’s my son’s favourite player. My son is three years old and he sees the good in everyone, so c’mon Starlin, turn it around this year.

Anthony Rizzo is only 24 years old. To put that into perspective, I was buying Motley Crue’s Dr.Feelgood on cassette when Tony Rizz’s parents were wrapping him up in a hospital issue blanket and enrolling him in the Cub’s Newborn’s Club. Mr. Rizzo banged 23 Homers last season and that was a slump? Oh Boy, I can’t wait to see him break out of this one.

The Cubs Gold Glove winner Darwin Barney, sure looked like that glove was made of fool’s Gold last season. He’s the clubs class act and although he didn’t look good at the plate, it was the infield where the Cubs are paying him the big bucks. This is going to be a pretty good season for him.

Jeff Samardzija is their ace. Keep him happy and this shark will bite all season long. Ya got that, chums?

Catching him is Wellington Castillo. Faithful readers of the Cubs Den will remember what I said last season in Spring.

Junior Lake and Nate Schierholtz had break out seasons last year. In 64 games, the still Lakes run deep can apply to this Junior Cub. He got 16 doubles and 26 runs compared to Schierholtz who in 137 games tallied 56 runs. Junior’s just getting started folks and this Lake will overflow. Prepare for the flood.

There’s an argument for bringing the young kids up too fast but with the firepower that the Cubs have in Kris Bryant, Brett Jackson, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. Would it hurt the Cubs to bring em’ up throughout the year? Give them a taste of the big leagues and throw them into the fire.

The Cubs are in good hands with new manager Rick Reinteria. He’s got his work cut out for him but just from the clips I’ve seen, he’s a communicator and that’s just what the Cubs need. With the young talent they have, it’s fitting that they hired a first time coach to lead these newbies into what could be a post season. I like Rick. He seems like a great guy and he smiles. A lot. Here’s hoping he’s smiling eight months from now.

Will the Cubs make the post season this year? Maybe. Are they as bad as all the trade publications make them out to be? No. Will they  finish last in the Central? Not a chance, brother. Give that to the Brewers.

These Cubs aren’t so lovable anymore. Look out baseball fans, these Cubs are about to roar.
–Mark

   

 

Cubs Looted

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Are there signs of improvement in this young Cubs organization? After yesterday’s 3-1 loss to the rival Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s looking like things could be turning around for them.

“Those guys, they’re good, they’re hot,” Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. “They’re playing good. Those hitters are not easy to get through. … Sometimes you don’t get good results, but when you throw your best pitch with conviction, then whatever happens, you’ll be happy because you threw it with conviction.”

Yes, the Pirates are probably playoff bound and yet the Cubs seem to be holding their own. Left hander Chris Rusin is staking his claim in a constantly changing rotation by keeping the surging Pirates to a low four hits. That’s pretty amazing considering the Cubs rotation has been “evolving” this season and hopefully things will be solidified this off season.

“It was probably, to me, his most impressive outing against a lineup that has numbers against left-handers that’s impressive,” Dale Sveum said.

Although the Cubs didn’t win and really it’s not to me the most important thing at this time in the season. It’s about finding the right pieces for next year.

Some support from one of my favourite players in the game Andrew McCutchen

“I’m sure they have a lot of good talent,” McCutchen said. “And they’re going to continue to get better. It takes time. It takes time getting guys comfortable, and getting feet wet just performing.”

Will it take the Cubs twenty years to get better? I hope not.

Jake Arietta gets a shot at redemption when the Cubs continue the series tonight 7:05 eastern.

—Mark

Still Dirty At Thirty

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

You have to hand it to the Cubs, when they’re good they’re pretty awesome. Last night in front of a near empty crowd in Cincinnati, the Cubs put a beat down on the Reds 9-1. The best part of the victory? It was a day after Edwin Jackson’s 30th birthday and he hits a home run. Happy Birthday indeed!

“It’s been a tough year, but there’s not been one time where I’ve given in,” Edwin Jackson said. “I’m a big believer, regardless how tough it gets, you can either fold or you can just continue to fight back. And as long as the guys in here know that you’re not a quitter, it doesn’t change the approach.”

Well there’s no point in rolling over and ending the season now. These last games are an early camp for next year. The other good thing about last night’s victory is they beat last year’s win total of 61. So you see, they’re getting better.

Wellington Castillo turned in a performance of the year by hitting two home runs and Donnie Murphy joined the party by hitting a home run of his own.

I’m anxious to see if the Cubs will indeed put in some prospects or stay the course. I’m liking Starlin Castro in the lead off spot.

The Cubs will try to earn the sweep and put a dent in the Red Machine when Jeff Samardzija gets the ball. It’s an early game at 12:35 eastern.

—Mark

Cubs Pay Their Pennants

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

It was a tough loss for the Chicago Cubs yesterday in St. Louis. The series sweep was just out of reach as the Cubs lost to the Cardinals, 8-4.

of course, St. Louis has a lot more to lose than the Cubs, but a win over the rivals would have been a sweet victory anyways.

“Obviously, they’re doing what they need to be doing, being in the pennant race,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

That’s exactly it. St. Louis is in a pennant race and the Cubs are not. So do the Cubs spend the rest of the season playing spoiler to the Reds and the other playoff bound teams or do they forge ahead and try to determine those players who will be with the club next year and stay the course.

I believe the Cubs should call up some more prospects and get them acquainted with the big leagues. I know a lot of teams that are out of playoff contention do this, but in the Cubs situation, it’s more important because they’ve been building for a few years. I don’t think the “spoiler” route is the right situation. Of course, if it happens then that is all the better.

“It’s really important,” catcher Welington Castillo said of the goals in the next seven weeks. “Not just for yourself, but for the team. I know we’re out of the race, but we’ve got to keep playing like we are close and we’re fighting. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing. Personally, you have to keep your head up and play like nothing has happened.”

Well Castillo, a lot has happened this year and it’s been a good year at that. Some players have gone like Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano. There’ll be some money freed up for next year and the Cubs can finally sign a couple quality but not too expensive free agents to compliment rising stars like Junior Lake and Kris Bryant.

The Cubs head home to face the Reds tonight at 8:05 eastern. Travis Wood gets the start.

—Mark

Cubs Attack Cardinals In St. Louis- Call Animal Control!

dioner navarro3

When everything goes well, they really go well for the Chicago Cubs. last night, the Cubs made it two in a row by soundly defeating their rivals the St. Louis Cardinals 6-5.

The Cubs scored with RISP’s, they scored with a comeback in the eighth and they of course, made it two in a row.

“There’s something about playing the Cardinals,” Darwin Barney said. “It’s not good to say, but you get up more for games like this. It’s just one of those things where they’re in the hunt and need to win some ballgames, and we’re playing spoilers once again. That’s a good club with an offense that’s on the verge of breaking out again. Let’s take them while we can.”

The Cubs improved to 52-64. Maybe .500 ball isn’t that far out of sight yet? This was the kind of game that Dale Sveum has wanted the Cubs to play all year. It hasn’t come easy, but it sure is a confidence booster. Dioner Navarro had marked his return by pinch hitting and getting an RBI double. So, when guys like Navarro can come in like that late in the game and produce, that’s what makes good teams great.

“It worked perfect,” Dale Sveum said. “We were testing Navarro today to find out if he could even play, and to get off the couch and get the game-winning hit. He’s the perfect backup catcher. You don’t worry about him because he’s so good off the bench.”

Wellington Castillo had a great game, knocking in a Home Run in the second inning. Castillo has been a quiet presence on this ball club. He doesn’t share the limelight with Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo or Junior Lake, but he gets things done when it counts.

Even though the Cubs won the series, it will feel even better today if Edwin Jackson can get the sweep. Game time is 2:15 eastern.

Rusin Shuts Out Cardinals

chris rusin

It may be late in the season and the Cubs don’t really have anything to play for but spots on the team for next year. If that’s the case, then Chris Rusin is making a strong case for himself as the Chicago Cubs handed the St. Louis Cardinals a 3-0 victory last night.

“His ball can move so much that he can get swings and misses at some balls that are quite a ways out of the zone,” Dale Sveum said. “But he makes the ball move. He keeps the ball down.”

Chris Rusin pitched six shutout innings and was the first Cubs pitcher to achieve that feat in St. Louis going way back to 1979 when Ken Holtzman went seven innings.

Junior Lake will most likely continue to be in a Cubs uniform next year, but his late season heroics have provided Cubs fans with something to believe in. It could be next year or the year after that but last night, Lake came through in the seventh inning to drive Wellington Castillo home. Later on it was Anthony Rizzo’s turn to bring Darwin Barney and Junior Lake home with the score.

This is the area that the Cubs have struggled with all season long. Maybe they don’t have the pressure this late in the season and it’s practice, but RISP is what winning teams can do. It’s always a great matchup when the Cubs play the Cardinals and the games usually mean something even when they don’t.

The Wild Card is out of reach but do the Cubs still have a chance to make it to .500? Their record is 51-64. It’s a long shot and the season is quickly fading away, but perhaps one last miracle shot at respectability?

“As a team, we can definitely get better, myself as well,” Anthony Rizzo said. “But we got to keep giving ourselves the situations.”

They still have plenty of time to practice up for next season. Carlos Villanueva gets the start tonight. Game time is 7:15 eastern.

–Mark