Cubs

On The Farm: Southern Leauge playoff preview

On The Farm: Southern Leauge playoff preview

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
3:47 PM

By Kevin T. Czerwinski
CSNChicago.com
Tennessee and West Tenn were almost evenly matched throughout the regular season in the Southern League. Now, these in-state rivals will get the chance to grab bragging rights and play for a league title. Heres a closer look at the opening-round matchup in the Southern League playoffs.
Tennessee Smokies vs. West Tenn Diamond Jaxx(Best of five beginning Thursday)

Regular-Season Series

Tennessee had the slightest of edges winning 11 of the 19 games played between the two teams. The Diamond Jaxx took of three late last month at home but Tennessee took four of five games at the end of July and beginning of August at Smokies Park.
HEAD-TO-HEAD
Tennessee

The Smokies have pitched well all season and their contests against West Tenn were no exception. Tennessee had a 3.64 team era in the series with the starters posting a 3.39 ERA. Chris Archer was 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA while Luke Sommer posted a 1.93 ERA in eight relief appearances. Brandon Guyer scorched the Diamond Jaxx at the plate, hitting .406 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Brett Jackson hit .321 with nine RBIs though he did strike out 16 times.
West Tenn

Johan Limanta hit .347 with 12 RBIs while Alex Liddi hit .303 with 14 RBIs. The Diamond Jaxx, however, struck out once every 4.2 at-bats led by Carlos Peguero, who fanned 30 times in 65 at-bats. Limanta and Liddi combined for 33 strikeouts. Luis Munoz was 2-0 but he had a 6.57 ERA in his six appearances. Steve Bray and Mauricio Robles each made four starts against the Smokies, combining to go 1-5 with a 7.28 ERA.
ON THE MOUND
Tennessee

The Smokies had the highest winning percentage .619 and the third-best ERA 3.71 in the league. They also topped the circuit with 49 saves. Chris Carpenter 8-6, 3.16 ERA was sixth in the league in ERA but that was it for placing pitchers among the league leaders. Tennessee had a fluid staff throughout the season, moving people up to Iowa while plucking arms off the Daytona roster. Though the Smokies lost Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Andrew Cashner and Hung-Wen Chen, who combined for 16 wins, to Iowa, they were replaced with Chris Archer 8-2, 1.80 and Trey McNutt. Archer was a combined 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA at Daytona and Tennessee while McNutt went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA at Peoria, Daytona and Tennessee. Craig Muschko was 9-3 with a 3.77 ERA in 26 games 23 starts. Kyle Smit also proved to be a fine addition after coming over in a trade with the Dodgers, going 5-1 with a save and 1.96 ERA in 12 appearances. As for finishing games, the Smokies have been closer by committee for much of the year with several plays
rotating in, out and around promotions.

West Tenn
The Diamond Jaxx finished seventh in the league with a 4.25 team ERA. Mauricio Robles was having a solid season and was near the top of several categories in terms of the league leaders when he was bumped up to Triple-A Tacoma last month. Game One starter Luis Munoz has appeared in 35 games but only 10 as a starter, during which he was 3-5 with a 4.17 ERA. His last four appearances were starts and he went 2-2 with a 3.43 ERA. Game Two starter Anthony Vazquez has been all over the map this season, spending time in the Midwest and California Leagues. The former 18th-round selection was a combined 11-9 with a 2.46 ERA. West Tenn has gone closer by committee all season and lately Mumba Rivera has been getting many of the chances to finish things off. He has four saves in his last six appearances, during which he didnt allow any runs. Anthony Varvaro led the team with nine saves.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game One: RHP Chris Archer 8-2, 1.80 vs. RHP Luis Munoz 7-6, 3.88
Game Two: RHP Chris Carpenter 8-6, 3.16 vs. LHP Anthony Vazquez 2-3, 2.61
Game Three: RHP Trey McNutt 0-1. 5.74 vs. RHP Jarrett Grube 5-5, 3.48
Game Four: RHP Craig Muschko 9-3, 3.77 vs. Stephen Bray 7-11, 5.50
Game Five: TBD vs. LHP Jim Gilheeney 1-2, 6.87
If necessary
AT THE PLATE

Tennessee

The Smokies had three of the top four hitters in the league, including Brandon Guyer who led the circuit with a .344 average despite missing time early with a shoulder injury and in August with a case of pink eye. He had an 18-game hitting streak in July and August during which he batted .471 while propelling himself to the crown. Tony Campana finished second with a .319 batting average while Blake Lalli was fourth at .311. The trio was the biggest reasons why the Smokies led the league with a .285 batting average. The Smokies also led the league in hits, runs scored, homers while striking out the fewest times on the 10-team circuit. Campana was also second in the league in hits 156 and stolen bases 48 while Guyer led the league in slugging percentage .588. Russ Canzler was second .566. If thats not enough, Steve Clevenger hit .317 with 47 RBIs. He hit .383 after the All-Star break and at one point in late August had hits in nine consecutive at-bats.
West Tenn

Third baseman Alex Liddi led the league with 92 RBIs second most in team history. The un-drafted free agent, who was born in San Remo, Italy, finished the regular season riding a 14-game hitting streak. Overall, he hit .281 but hit .490 during the streak to raise his average from .260. The Diamond Jaxx had Dustin Ackley through the first-half of the season but lost him to promotion at the All-Star break. Matt Lawson, one of the players the Mariners got from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal, has played well, hitting .319 with 22 RBIs in 42 games after driving in 34 with Frisco of the Texas League. Nick Franklin, the clubs first-round pick 27th overall in the 2009 draft, was called up from the Midwest League earlier this week and pressed into service when Carlos Triunfel sprained his index finger and went on the DL. Triunfel is likely done for the year meaning Franklin, who skipped right over High Desert, will be the starting shortstop after hitting .281 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs for Clinton. Triunfel had
been hitting .257.

NOTES

Tennessee finished with an 86-53 mark, a franchise record. The Smokies will host four of the five games because they won both halves in the Southern League season. The Diamond Jaxx will change their names next season to the Jackson Generals. Leury Bonilla played all nine positions in the Diamond Jaxx season-finale on Monday. He pitched a scoreless inning, recording a strikeout and inducing a 6-4-3 doubleplay. The Diamond Jaxx last made the playoffs in 2008 when they won the first-half championship by defeating Huntsville in a one-game playoff. They are riding a five-game winning streak heading into the post-season this year. Jacksonville Florida and Mobile Arizona will play in the other opening-round series.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kimbrel, blisters and the business of baseball

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kimbrel, blisters and the business of baseball

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan and Tony Andracki tackle all the pressing topics surrounding the Cubs, including the Brewers' reported connection to Craig Kimbrel (:45), Yu Darvish's blister woes (5:15), how the current run of extensions in MLB will affect the Cubs in the future (9:10), and Tony makes the case for Kris Bryant to be the regular lead-off hitter (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Brewers

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AP

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Brewers

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Milwaukee Brewers

2018 record: 96-67, 1st in NL Central

Offseason additions: Yasmani Grandal, Alex Claudio, Ben Gamel, Bobby Wahl, Cory Spangenberg, Brett Lawrie, Tuffy Gosewisch, Jake Petricka...and maybe Craig Kimbrel??

Offseason departures: Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Jonathan Schoop, Wade Miley, Xavier Cedeno, Curtis Granderson, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles, Dan Jennings, Joakim Soria

X-factor: Jimmy Nelson

The 29-year-old right-hander emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee pitching staff with a breakout 2017 campaign (12-6, 3.49 ERA, 10.2 K/9) but hasn't thrown a pitch in a game since Sept. 8 of that season.

He's been dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him on the shelf all of last season and will ensure he won't break camp with the club this spring. But he is currently on the comeback trail and still expected to take a spot in the rotation at some point early this year.

When he returns, what kind of pitcher will he be? Is he the guy that struck out 199 batters and walked only 48 in 175.1 innings (as he did in 2017)? Or is he the pitcher that led the NL with 86 walks against only 140 whiffs in 179.1 innings in 2016? 

And how healthy will Nelson be? After missing an entire season, will his innings limit be somewhere around 100 frames?

Not much has changed for the Brewers from a year ago in that they still have a clear weakness in their rotation but a dynamite bullpen. But they obviously made it work last year.

If Nelson can return and give the Brewers some really valuable innings to begin games before he hands it over to Josh Hader and Co., that could be a huge asset to a squad that won 96 games and made it a one victory shy of the World Series without him.

Projected lineup

1. Lorenzo Cain - CF
2. Christian Yelich - RF
3. Jesus Aguilar - 1B
4. Travis Shaw - 3B
5. Ryan Braun - LF
6. Mike Moustakas - 2B
7. Yasmani Grandal - C
8. Orlando Arcia - SS

Projected rotation

1. Jhoulys Chacin
2. Chase Anderson
3. Zach Davies
4. Corbin Burnes
5. Freddy Peralta

Outlook

For all the talk of the Cubs' quiet winter, the Brewers were just as silent. Then again, they were the ascending team heading into the winter after they caught the Cubs from behind to win the NL Central and took the Dodgers to a Game 7 in the NLCS.

The Cubs finished 11-9 against the Brewers in 2018 with a +4 run differential, illustrating how neck-in-neck the two teams were a year ago. But the Brewers' arrow is pointing up in the rivalry while the Cubs now have a Year of Reckoning. 

The Cubs jumped out to a 7-1 record against their neighbors to the north by the end of April, but that took a turn for the worse as Milwaukee went 8-4 the rest of the way (including that Game 163).

The Brewers also didn't necessarily need to add much to their roster this winter since they had so many answers in house to fill needs. 

Still, they're potentially close to making a huge splash to further improve an area of great strength. Reports trickled out from Ken Rosenthal and Robert Murray of The Athletic Tuesday night that the Brewers were in talks with free agent closer Craig Kimbrel. Jon Heyman doubled down on that info and said the talks were "getting serious" Wednesday afternoon:

That would be an incredible addition to what was already the best bullpen in the NL a year ago. Pairing Kimbrel with Josh Hader and Corey Knebel puts three of the best relievers in the game at the back end of the Milwaukee relief corps. That unit would only get better once veteran Jeremy Jeffress returns after his bout with shoulder discomfort that's limited him this spring.

The Brewers adding Kimbrel would also be a huge slap in the face to the Cubs, who have a clear need for elite bullpen arms yet maintain they don't have "any more money" to spend on the roster. 

Beyond that, the Brew Crew made some shrewd moves this winter in bringing back Moustakas and also adding Grandal on one-year deals.

Grandal is one of the best defensive catchers in the game and shores up a potential hole on the Milwaukee roster. Last season, the Brewers finished 13th in MLB in catcher WAR, but much of that was based on defensive value. The collection of catchers — Manny Pina, Erik Kratz and Jett Bandy — ranked 21st in OPS (.657) from the position. Grandal has a career .782 OPS and has hit at least 22 homers every year since 2015. 

Moustakas wasn't necessarily a game-changer for the Brewers last year when he came over in a midseason trade (.767 OPS), but he gives the lineup more length and has clubbed 66 homers with 180 RBI the last two seasons combined.

There are certainly question marks about this group of position players.

Aguilar was fantastic last year while clubbing 35 homers with 108 RBI, but he had just 16 homers in his MLB career prior to 2018 and he was a completely different hitter in the second half. Before the All-Star Break (and his appearance in the Home Run Derby), the big slugger hit 24 homers, knocked in 70 runs and posted a .995 OPS. After the break, he hit just 11 homers with 38 RBI while sporting a .760 OPS and watched as his slugging percentage fell nearly 200 points. Was that a sign the league figured him out? Was the first half simply a hot stretch and the real Aguilar is a late bloomer who is a servicable slugger, but not necessarily a 35 homer/100 RBI threat each year?

Shaw crushes righties but can't hit lefties. Braun is 35 now and coming off arguably the worst season of his career. Cain had a fantastic first season in Milwaukee, but he's 33 now it's certainly possible his best seasons are behind him. Yelich is a legit star, but will he put up a .598 slugging percentage and 1.000 OPS again this year? 

And what will Arcia's production look like? Already a defensive whiz at shortstop, the 24-year-old hit .310 with a .733 OPS the final six weeks of 2018, including going 4-for-4 against the Cubs in that Game 163.

All that being said, the Brewers should have no trouble putting up runs this year and have some remarkable depth with Eric Thames, Hernan Perez and Ben Gamel on the bench, plus guys like Spangenberg in the minors and top prospect Keston Hiura potentially right around the corner.

Milwaukee is also one of the best teams in baseball in terms of executing the shift and preventing runs, especially with elite defender Cain patrolling the outfield. That run prevention will help a rotation that again has concerns.

Chacin-Anderson-Davies isn't exactly a three-headed monster, but they've all had good seasons in the past (including Chacin last year when he certainly had the Cubs' number).

Then there's Nelson, who could play a huge role this year as well as young arms Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff — all guys who can pitch at the back end of the rotation or move to the bullpen and help bridge the gap ahead of Hader and Knebel (and maybe Kimbrel??).

The reason I have the Brewers in the middle of the pack in the division is the Chuck Tanner Rule, as David Kaplan has discussed several times on the CubsTalk Podcast. So many guys on the Brewers roster had career seasons and baseball typically normalizes over a larger sample with regression to the mean. Some of those breakouts are legit (Yelich, particularly), but to what extent?

Meanwhile, the Cardinals improved their roster this winter the Cubs are banking on positive regression for their group. Make no mistake: Even with a slight regression across the board, the Brewers are still plenty good enough to contend for the NL Central crown and potentially even the NL pennant.

Adding Kimbrel to the Brewers bullpen might push them over both the Cardinals and Cubs in my personal projections. But really, you could create any combination of how these three teams finish in the division and it'd be an easy sell.

For now, let's go with the Brewers in 3rd place, close behind the Cubs and Cardinals in the division and just out of the final Wild-Card spot.

Prediction: 3rd in NL Central, just outside the Wild-Card race

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
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Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
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Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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