Cubs

Cubs minor-league roundup

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Cubs minor-league roundup

While Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer continue to build for the future lets take a look at this weeks minor league report

It was business as usual this week for Anthony Rizzo, going about his work as he has in the recent past. Pounding towering home runs over the fence and driving runs in at will, causing Cubs fans to salivate at the thought of their future first baseman doing the same at Wrigley Field.

But then Tuesday happened.

A pop up was hit into foul territory and Rizzo gave chase with a full head of steam. The future slugger slid to avoid crashing into the fence, but it was too late. Rizzo slid knee-first into the wall and the Cubs faithful collectively held their breath. Ultimately, Rizzo walked off the field under his own power with what is being called a knee contusion.

He is listed as day-to-day. The injury could not have come at a worse time because before his run-in with fence, Rizzo was arguably hotter than he has been all year. He went 11-for-28 (.392) on the week with six runs, 10 RBIs and five home runs, including back-to-back games with two round trippers. Rizzos injury shouldnt be a long-term concern but it does create some angst amongst Cubs fans. The day of his call up is inching closer though and it couldnt come soon enough.

Brett Jackson began his climb back to top prospect form two weeks ago, but took a small step back this past week. He went 7-for-28 (.250) with three RBIs, all coming off his only home run of the week. The alarming statistic was Jacksons 10 strikeouts. Striking over a third of the time you come to the plate is not going to help when you are trying to grind back to hitting .300.

Luckily, his mediocre week only resulted in a two-point drop in average (.259). Pretty soon, Rizzo is going to get his call and there will be a large void of run production that will need to be filled in Iowa. Jackson must view this as an opportunity and have a stellar second half, proving to Cubs management that he will be an integral part of their plan for the future.

The Double A Tennessee Smokies had a productive week as a team, going 5-1. A number of these wins wouldnt have been possible if it were not for the efforts of rising star Junior Lake. Lake saw minimal action this week, appearing in only three games, but when he had the bat in his hands, he delivered. He went 5-for-12 (.417) with one home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. Lake appears to be doing everything in his power to be a part of Theos equation a few years down the line. If he continues to mature and produce, he should be right on schedule.

Trey McNutt was a tale of two starts this week. If you looked at the stat line alone, it would seem as if two completely different pitchers showed up. In his first start, McNutt went 5.2 innings and gave up no runs on three hits. He struck out three on his way to a dominant win. The right-hander looked like he was finding his groove coming off another win five days earlier.

His second start of the week suggested otherwise, though. McNutts outing was short lived, as he lasted only 3.1 innings. In this short workday, he was touched up for nine runs on nine hits, including a home run. McNutt is a glaring example of the ebb and flow that is minor league baseball.

The Daytona Cubs have been struggling to find the bright side of anything as of late. They are five games under .500 and sit 12 games back in the division. Frankly, Matt Loosen does not let his teams record affect his preparation. He takes the mound every start with the same attitude and that is to do whatever it takes to win. And thats exactly what he did this week as Loosen was 2-0.

He pitched a total of 11.2 innings, giving up only 5 hits and no runs over the two-game span. He struck out six in his first start and seven in his second. He is now 5-1 on the season with a 2.63 ERA. If Loosen continues to absolutely shut teams down in this fashion, he should be expecting a promotion very soon.

Javier Baez is still getting comfortable in his role as a professional baseball player and that is a process that takes time. Coming off a successful first week-and-a-half, Baez hit a bit of a speed bump this week. He was 3-for-20 (.150) in six games played. Baez had one RBI and five strikeouts. It is weeks like this that test a young players mental toughness.

There is no denying Baezs talent but it will be exciting to see how he responds to his recent struggles.

Should the Cubs bring Daniel Murphy back in 2019?

Should the Cubs bring Daniel Murphy back in 2019?

With MLB Hot Stove season about 10 days away, Cubs fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to see how Theo Epstein's front office will reshape an underperforming lineup this winter.

The first step in that will be determining if there is a future with Daniel Murphy in Chicago and if so, what that future might entail. 

Murphy's introduction to the North Side fanbase was rocky, but he drew rave reviews from his teammates and coaches for how he conducted himself in the month-and-a-half he wore a Cubs uniform. 

He also filled a serious hole in the Cubs lineup, hitting .297 with an .800 OPS in 35 games (138 at-bats) while spending most of his time in the leadoff spot, helping to set the tone. Extrapolating Murphy's Cubs tenure over 550 plate appearances, it would be good for 23 homers, 86 runs, 49 RBI and 23 doubles over a full season. That would be worth 3.4 WAR by FanGraphs' measure, which would've ranked third on the Cubs among position players in 2018 behind only Javy Baez (5.3 WAR) and Ben Zobrist (3.6). (By comparison, Baseball Reference rated Murphy a -0.2 WAR player with the Cubs due to a much worse rating on defense.) 

Murphy's performance defensively at second base left quite a bit to be desired, but it's also worth pointing out he had major surgery on his right knee last fall. The procedure wasn't just a cleanup — he had microfracture surgery and cartilage debridement and wasn't able to return to the field until the middle of June this summer despite an Oct. 20, 2017 surgery.

The Cubs will begin the 2019 season without a clear, everyday choice at second base and the lineup can use a guy like Murphy, who has a great approach each time up and leads baseball with a .362 batting average with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2016 season.

So could a reunion be in the cards?

"I wouldn't rule anything out," Epstein said the day after the Cubs' 2018 campaign ended prematurely. "It was a pleasure having Daniel here. He did a lot to right our offense right after he got here and contribute while being asked to play a bigger role than we envisioned when we got him because of some other injuries, because of our lack of performance offensively and then because of the schedule. He was asked to play a lot more than expected, than probably he was ready to based on the proximity to his knee surgery.

"So I think he's gonna have a real beneficial offseason, get even stronger and be ready to contribute next year. Which league that's in and for what team remains to be seen. But I certainly think he acquitted himself well here, was REALLY respected by his teammates. Our guys loved talking hitting with him. It was a daily occurrence. Long discussions about hitting with him, picking his brain. 

"We look a lot better with him than without him, so I wouldn't rule anything out."

There's a lot to unpack here. Epstein was refreshingly honest throughout his whole press conference and that continued with regards to Murphy.

For starters, notice how Epstein first said he wasn't sure "what league" Murphy will be playing in. The Cubs president of baseball operations is typically extremely measured when speaking with the public and he almost never says anything by accident.

Murphy will turn 34 April 1 and was never renowned as an elite fielder even before that major knee surgery. Meaning: The writing has been on the wall for over a year that the veteran may be best suited for a designated hitter role with his new contract and Epstein is clearly well aware of that perception/narrative.

The other aspect of Epstein's comments is how he began and ended his statement on Murphy — that he wouldn't rule anything out and the Cubs obviously thought it was a successful pairing.

It's hard to argue with that on the offensive side of things and his impact was also felt off the field, where he was praised often by his teammates and coaches for talking hitting with younger players like Ian Happ and David Bote. 

Imagine how the final 6 weeks of the season would've looked had the Cubs not acquired Murphy in the middle of August to agument the lineup. The Brewers would've probably nabbed the division lead well before a Game 163.

Still, Murphy's hitting prowess both on and off the field wasn't enough to help the Cubs lineup avoid a slide that led to a date with the couch before the NLDS even began. Epstein's statement about how the Cubs "look a lot better" with Murphy than without is probably more about how fresh the sting was from the inept offense that managed just 2 runs scored in 22 innings in the final two games of the season.

Given his consistency the last few years, his advanced approach at the plate and his (recent) unrivaled ability to come through in key spots, Murphy's bat would be a welcome addition to any Cubs lineup moving forward. 

But it would still be tough to fit Murphy on the Cubs' 2019 roster for a variety of reasons. 

For starters, if the Cubs truly have a desire to write out a more consistent lineup next year, it's tough to add another aging veteran to a mix that already includes Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 next year), especially when they both spend a majority of their time at the same position (second base) and shouldn't be considered everyday players at this stage in their respective careers.

Murphy's defense/range also doesn't figure to get much better as he ages — even with an offseason to get his knee back up to 100 percent health — and second base is a key spot for run prevention, especially in turning double plays with a pitching staff that induces a lot of contact and groundballs.

Offensively, Murphy isn't perfect, either. He's never walked much, but in 2018, he posted his lowest walk rate since 2013. He also struck out 15.7 percent of the time in a Cubs uniform and while that's a small sample size, it still represents his highest K% since his rookie 2008 season (18.5 percent). 

Then there's the splits — the left-handed Murphy hit just .238 with a .564 OPS vs. southpaws in 2018, a far cry from the .319 average and .864 OPS he posted against right-handed pitchers. That was a steep drop-off from the previous three seasons (2015-17), in which he put up a .296 average and .810 OPS against lefties.

Add it all up and Murphy's potential fit with the 2019 Cubs is questionable at best, especially if an American League team hands him more money and years to come DH for them and hit near the top of their order.

But like Epstein said, don't rule anything out.

Let's listen to the Bears-Patriots' wild finish in other languages, because it's way better that way

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@thecheckdown

Let's listen to the Bears-Patriots' wild finish in other languages, because it's way better that way

Remember Sunday's Bears-Patriots finish? The one where the Bears (and Kevin White -- shouts to Kevin White!) were one-yard away from tying the game on a hail mary? 

Here was the call that most viewers heard, which was Extremely Meh: 

Now here's the call that viewers in Germany and Portugal heard, which is SO MUCH BETTER: 

Turns out that being excited for an exciting play makes for good television, who woulda thought.