Cubs

How Cubs are positioned for a Giant run – right now and in the future

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USA TODAY

How Cubs are positioned for a Giant run – right now and in the future

SAN FRANCISCO – Since last October, the San Francisco Giants have gone from nearly pushing the Cubs into a dreaded elimination game against Johnny Cueto to racing the White Sox to the bottom for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
 
The Cubs are headed for that Giant crash someday. Maybe Theo Epstein leaves Wrigley Field in a gorilla suit, the players tune out Joe Maddon’s “Easy Rider” act and Jon Lester’s $155 million left arm finally breaks down and the pitching infrastructure collapses.
 
Who knows? Perhaps all those young hitters weren’t quite as good as we thought they were. Years of drafting near the bottom of the first round and spending restrictions within the collective bargaining agreement will slow down – if not stop – the flow of young, blue-chip talent to Wrigleyville.

Nothing lasts forever.

But San Francisco’s free fall into last place in the National League West – 36 games behind the hated Los Angeles Dodgers – is a reality check for the relative struggles of a first-place team and a reminder of how well the defending champs are positioned for the future.

Because as much as the Cubs obsessed about the Boston Red Sox during the rebuilding years, the Giants represented an ideal of business/baseball synergies with stable leadership, a spectacular waterfront stadium, big-market payrolls, a talented homegrown core and the mental toughness to win World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

To put it in perspective now: Anthony Rizzo will turn 28 on Tuesday and is only 14 months older than Joe Panik, the Gold Glove/All-Star second baseman viewed as the young guy in San Francisco’s clubhouse.

Jason Heyward was born the day after Rizzo in 1989. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. are all between the ages of 25 and 23. Ian Happ will turn 23 this weekend. It won’t just be seeing the black and orange all around AT&T Park during a three-game series that begins Monday night and returning to the scene of last year’s epic Game 4 comeback and raucous celebration in the visiting clubhouse.

“When we go play other teams, I’m still struck by how we’re always the youngest team on the field,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We have this young core of position players at basically every position who are guys that were all top-10, top-15 prospects in baseball who are wearing rings on their finger from last year.”

So, no, the Cubs aren’t worried about the “Bottom of the Barrel” label that Baseball America put on their farm system, ranking it as one of the industry’s worst after the July 31 trade deadline and aggressive moves for Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.

“Certainly, we’ve traded a number of prospects to go out and win a World Series and strengthen ourselves for the future,” Hoyer said. “Prospect rankings are valuable in some ways. I think how big your prospects are is – in some ways – a good view into sort of organizational health. But we’re unusual in that way.

“It’s really difficult or challenging to look at our organization in that way, because on the one hand, yes, we’ve traded a number of prospects. But on the other hand, we’ve really protected that core of players that are in the big leagues. And that’s a very deep core of super-talented players who are young and under control for a long time. We’re an incredibly healthy organization from a young-talent standpoint.”

The guess here is that the Cubs brand is so strong, team officials are so good at marketing their young players and there are enough legitimate assets to get some names on Baseball America’s 2018 top 100.

But looking back at those rankings heading into the 2012 season – the first full year for the Epstein regime – shows how unpredictable this business can be: Brett Jackson placed 32nd on a top 100 where the top five went Bryce Harper, Matt Moore, Mike Trout, Yu Darvish and Julio Teheran.

Baseball America slotted Rizzo at No. 47 in between Randall Delgado and Billy Hamilton. Matt Szczur landed at No. 64, or one spot ahead of Sonny Gray. At No. 61, Baez fell two spots behind George Springer, who got this blurb: “Figures to battle Rangers’ Mike Olt for title of best UConn position player in the big leagues.”

Sooner or later, the Cubs will have a new TV deal that will enhance all their built-in advantages over the small-market franchises in the NL Central. The potential departures of free agents like Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Wade Davis, Jon Jay, Koji Uehara, Brian Duensing and Avila could create more than $50 million in payroll space.

Quintana’s club-friendly deal – which will make him an anchor for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 rotations at just under $31 million – allows the Cubs to think big and add another star player. Epstein’s front office also structured long-term contracts for Lester and Ben Zobrist with a curve that made upfront payments, took their ages into account and decreased the financial commitment on the back end.

So while 1908 hung over everything the Cubs once did, in reality the operating philosophy could be summed up like this: Get into the playoffs, say, seven times in 10 seasons and there should be a year – or two or maybe even three – where your team stays healthy, gets hot, runs into the right matchups and makes enough plays for a parade down Michigan Avenue.

The 2017 Cubs are staying in the picture.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are we seeing a playoff preview between the Cubs and Dodgers?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are we seeing a playoff preview between the Cubs and Dodgers?

Kap is joined by Doug Glanville, Nick Friedell, and Seth Gruen. The guys preview the NLCS rematch at Wrigley between the Cubs and Dodgers, discuss Kris Bryant's return to the leadoff spot, and consider the possibility of a 6-man rotation upon Darvish's return from the DL.

Plus, the guys weigh in on the Bulls' options in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live podcast here 

 

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from Daniel Palka, Anthony Rizzo and more in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who Knew? Baseball oddities from Daniel Palka, Anthony Rizzo and more in Chicago baseball

After a two-week hiatus, “Who Knew?” is Back!  Time for our (usually) weekly journey through the improbable, inane & obscure of Chicago Baseball.

All notes are through Sunday’s games.

Extra Innings… Extra Runs

Last Monday the Cubs beat the Brewers 7-2… in 11 innings.

They have three wins this season in extra innings.  By 4, 5 and 6 runs!  Their four extra-inning losses this season are by 1, 1, 1 and 2 runs.

No other team has won an extra-inning game by at least 5 runs this season.  The Cubs have done it twice.

Inning Checklist

Anthony Rizzo homered in the 11th inning in that Monday Cubs win.  He has now homered in every inning from 1 to 13 in his career, joining Ron Santo & Sammy Sosa as the only players in Cubs history who can make that distinction.

One-Two Punch

Tuesday night, Yoán Moncada & Yolmer Sánchez led off the game with back-to-back home runs.

It was the fourth time in franchise history the Sox led a game off with consecutive homers.

Sánchez hit the second home run each of the last two times they did it (also September 2, 2017 after Alen Hanson)

It was the FIRST time in Major League history two players whose first name begins with the letter Y had hit consecutive home runs to begin a game.

What’s the Catch?

439 players have had at least 30 at-bats this season.

The best batting average of those players belongs to Kevan Smith (.441 but in only 34 at-bats)

In the Park

The most batters faced without allowing a home run this season is 149, by Dylan Covey. He allowed 20 Home Runs in 70.0 Innings in 2017.

Through the Draft

Friday night:

Javier Báez Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2011 (9th overall)  reached base 3 times (including two walks!)
Albert Almora Jr. Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2012 (6th overall)  reached base 3 times
Kris Bryant Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2013 (2nd overall) homered
Kyle Schwarber Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2014 (4th overall)    homered
Ian Happ Cubs’ 1st round pick in 2015 (9th overall)   homered

Double Time

José Abreu has 21 doubles since May 8th.

You could chop off Abreu’s first 31 games this season and those 21 doubles alone would be enough to tie Ozzie Albies & Nick Markakis for the FULL season National League lead this season

Palka Party

Daniel Palka’s 7 batted balls of at least 115 mph is the 4th highest total in MLB (according to the available data at baseballsavant.com).

But look at how many more plate appearances this season the other guys have had!

  Batted balls of 115+mph  PA
Giancarlo Stanton    10 294
Joey Gallo   9 286
Aaron Judge     8 300
Daniel Palka     7 154

                                                

By the way, the rest of the White Sox team has a combined 3 batted balls of 115+ MPH this season.  Palka is clearly a special talent.