Afternoon Delight: Dominant Bullpen on the Horizon?

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The bullpen is a tricky thing, from year to year guys come and go, and every once in a while a team boasts a dominant bullpen relatively out of nowhere.  Off-season acquisitions, and power arms marinating on the farm are usually catalysts for such success, but injuries, and unforeseen ineffectiveness can derail the pen quickly.  Given the large number of variables that go into predicting the success of a bullpen it’s usually an exercise in futility, but here goes…  The Cubs’ bullpen has a chance to be dominant (They all do!  You’re screaming), well, let’s just look at the options, shall we?

The Cubs have a solid core group of guys coming back this year, which could point to a reasonable amount of success in 2016.  I base this mostly on the fact that the Cubs had the 8th best bullpen ERA in the Majors last year, and names like Brian Schlitter, Rafael Soriano, Edwin Jackson (wasn’t too terrible in this role), Gonzalez Germen, and Phil Coke were members of said pen.  To be fair, guys like Trevor Cahill, and Travis Wood exceeded expectations in rather unfamiliar bullpen roles last year, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that they will come back down to Earth a bit.  The fact remains though, the best arms out of that Cubs pen are back this year, and there really is no reason to expect a significant drop in performance.  Let’s break down the possible bullpen roles, yes, despite the crazy competition that will be taking place this spring.

Closer – Hector Rondon

Set up – Pedro Strop

Set up – Justin Grimm

Middle Relief – Adam Warren (acquisition) (Rotation Chance)

Middle Relief – Rex Brothers (acquisition)

Middle Relief – Neil Ramirez

Long Relief – Travis Wood

Long Relief – Trevor Cahill (Rotation chance)

On paper… on paper, that looks pretty darn good, and obviously as I write this I’m using the most optimistic thoughts as possible.  A big key here is the health of Neil Ramirez, he was outstanding in 2014, and parts of 2015 when he wasn’t battling back from injuries, a healthy Ramirez goes a long way towards a great 2016.  Adam Warren proves to be an upgrade over guys that the Cubs had to turn to last year in tough spots, like Jason Motte (again, ignore the injuries for the sake of this conversation).  There is also a chance that Warren will have an opportunity to win a rotation spot, but guys with flexibility are all the rage for Joe Maddon.  Rex Brothers, who was dominate in 2013, and struggled mightily in 2014, looks to bounce back, and if he does proves to be another rather large upgrade.  Young arms like Carl Edwards Jr., Duane Underwood Jr., and Pierce Johnson could also make an impact in the Cubs pen this year despite being starters while working their way through the organization, save for Edwards Jr. last year.

The talent pool is better than last year, and the depth is better as well, those two things put the Cubs in a good spot to start the spring.  If injuries pop up, like they absolutely will, the Cubs are in a better position to handle them, and still might have a few new additions that could surprise during camp, and win a job.

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Riding the Bus: May 7, 2015 (Cubs Minor League Recaps)

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THURSDAY • MAY 7, 2015

Myrtle Beach 5-7 Final

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Walk-off!  The Pelicans improved to a seasons best seven games over .500 with a 2-1 win over Salem thanks to a Billy McKinney walk-off dinger!  You can also thank Duane Underwood for dominating on the mound.

At the Plate:

  • Mark Zagunis is an on base machine, he was 0-for-2 with three walks in the win.
  • Billy McKinney is similar to Zagunis in regards to being one of those on base machines, he was 1-for-1 with FOUR walks, said walk-off dinger, an RBI, and a run scored.
  • Jacob Rogers, and Trey Martin each had one hit, both singles.

On the Mound:

  • Duane Underwood Jr. got the start tonight, and was brilliant.  He worked seven innings, giving up one run on three hits while walking one, and striking out four.
  • Juan Paniagua was solid out of the pen, he worked two scoreless innings while striking out one.
  • Michael Heesch picked up his second win of the season, he worked a scoreless inning in doing so.

Tennessee Smokies 5-7 Final

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A tough loss for the Smokies as they saw an early 4-0 lead slip away in a 5-4 loss.  The Smokies scored four times in the first inning and couldn’t find anymore offense the rest of the way.

At the Plate:

  • Albert Almora has picked up where he left off before the injury, he was 1-for-4 with a run scored, he’s hitting .310 on the season.
  • Kyle Schwarber was solid in this one, he went 1-for-4 with a run scored.
  • Bijan Rademacher had the big hit for the Smokies, he was 1-for-4 with a double, and three RBI’s.
  • Elliot Soto was the best of the bunch tonight, he was 2-for-3 with an RBI.

On the Mound:

  • Corey Black got the start, and he struggled with his command, he worked five innings, giving up three runs on four hits while walking four, and striking out seven.
  • Fernando Cruz was outstanding out of the pen, he worked three scoreless innings, giving up one run, unearned, on one hit while striking out four.
  • Stephen Perakslis picked up the loss in this one, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up one run on three hits.

South Bend 5-7 Final

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Things got a little close late in this one but the South Bend Cubs hung on to beat Bowling Green 3-2.  Not many teams can say that as Bowling Green boasts a 17-11 record on the year, tonight the Cubs had just enough.

At the Plate:

  • Charcer Burks has been great this year, it continued tonight, he was 1-for-3 with two walks, and two RBI’s.
  • Justin Marra found some extra base magic, he was 1-for-3 with a double, and a walk.
  • Jesse Hodges was solid as well, he went 1-for-3 with his fifth double of the year, a walk, and a run scored.
  • Jeffrey Baez had a nice game, he went 1-for-3 with a walk, and a run scored, maybe that will get him going.
  • Gleyber Torres continues to get on base, he was 1-for-4 with a walk in the win.

On the Mound:

  • Zach Hedges got the start, and he does what he usually does, put up zeroes.  He worked five scoreless innings, giving up three hits while walking two, and striking out four.
  • Ryan McNeil was decent out of the pen, he worked two scoreless innings, giving up one run on two hits while striking out two.
  • Jordan Minch was touched up, he worked 1.2 innings, giving up one run on one hit while walking one, and striking out two.
  • James Farris had his shortest outing of the year, but it was all he needed to pick up his third save of the year.  He worked a third of an inning to shut the door.

Iowa Cubs 5-7 Final

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The Iowa Cubs didn’t have much going in this one, but found a way to push four runs across the plate in the seventh for a 4-1 victory in Nashville.

At the Plate:

  • Arismendy Alcantara has been flashing the power in Iowa, he was 1-for-4 with a walk, his fourth dinger, two RBI’s, a stolen base, and a run scored.
  • Mike Baxter has been solid all year, he was 2-for-4 with a run scored, he’s now hitting .314 on the season.
  • Jonathan Mota was right in the middle of the action, he went 2-for-4 with a run scored in the win.
  • John Andreoli, Chris Valaika, and Taylor Davis all had one hit tonight.

On the Mound:

  • Tsuyoshi Wada got the start, and continues to make a push to be promoted, he worked 5.2 innings, giving up one run on four hits while walking two, and striking out six.
  • Gonzalez Germen has been awesome in Iowa, he worked 1.1 scoreless innings to pick up his third win, he struck out two in the process.
  • Blake Cooper worked a scoreless inning to pick up his second hold of the year.
  • Brian Schlitter worked a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save of the season.

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Riding the Bus: May 4, 2015 (Cubs Minor League Reports)

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MONDAY • MAY 4, 2015

Iowa Cubs 5-4 Final

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Not much offense in this one as the Cubs and Sounds combined for three runs on just thirteen hits.  The right team had more as the Cubs were able to tightrope their way to a 2-1 victory on the road.

At the Plate:

  • Arismendy Alcantara is heating up, he was 1-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a run scored.
  • Matt Szczur showed off his power, he was 1-for-2 with two walks, a dinger, two RBI’s, and a run scored.
  • Javier Baez had another good night, he was 1-for-2 with a walk, and stolen base.
  • Taylor Davis was solid, he went 2-for-4, he’s now hitting .333 on the season.
  • Mike Baxter and John Andreoli each had one hit in the win.

On the Mound:

  • Eric Jokisch got the start and was outstanding, he worked six innings, giving up one run on four hits while walking one, and striking out five.
  • Brian Schlitter was good out of the pen tonight, he worked a scoreless inning while giving up one hit, and striking out one.
  • Justin Grimm is working his way back, hooray.  He worked a scoreless inning, surrendering one hit while walking one, and striking out two.
  • James Russell is also doing some good things, he worked a scoreless inning as well to pick up his third save of the season.

Tennessee Smokies 5-4 Final

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 A long one early this afternoon saw the Smokies comeback then blow a lead late in a tough loss.  The Smokies only gave up six hits in thirteen innings, unfortunately that was just enough for Birmingham.

At the Plate:

  • Pin-Chieh Chen was seeing the ball well today, and that’s an understatement.  Chen was 2-for-2 with FIVE walks, a dinger, an RBI, a stolen base, and a run scored.  That’s right, he reached base SEVEN times.
  • Willson Contreras was solid, he went 3-for-5 with a walk, and two doubles.
  • Stephen Bruno has been really good, he was 2-for-6, he’s now hitting .293 on the season.
  • Ryan Dent had a good game from the nine spot, he was 1-for-5 with a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored.

On the Mound:

  • Felix Pena got the start and struggled with his command, he tossed 5.2 innings, giving up two runs on just two hits while walking five, and striking out four.
  • Fernando Cruz bounced back today, he worked 1.1 scoreless innings, surrendering just one base hit.
  • Michael Jensen was also really good, he worked two scoreless innings, giving up two hits while striking out three.
  • Stephen Perakslis was brilliant, and I thought he was going to get the win, he worked three scoreless innings, surrendering zero hits while striking out three.
  • Zach Cates picked up the blown save, and loss, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up two runs on one hit while walking one, and striking out one.

Myrtle Beach 5-4 Final

 Final Box Score

Things got a little out of hand in this one as Myrtle Beach fell behind early before racing in front late.  Trailing 2-0, the Pelicans charged ahead with six runs in the fourth inning to take a 7-6 lead.  The Pelicans didn’t stop there as they finished the night with fourteen runs, and seventeen hits.

At the Plate:

  • Mark Zagunis was 2-for-6 with two doubles, and two runs scored.
  • Wes Darvill was 1-for-3 with two walks, a triple, three RBI’s, and two runs scored.
  • Billy Mckinney was 2-for-4 with a triple, three RBI’s, a walk, and a run scored.
  • Jacob Rogers was 3-for-5 with a dinger, four RBI’s, a walk, and a run scored.
  • Jeimer Candelario was 2-for-6 with a double, and a run scored.
  • Kevin Brown was 3-for-5 with a double, and a run scored.
  • Daniel Lockhart was 2-for-5 with an RBI, a stolen base, and a run scored.
  • Carlos Penalver was 2-for-4 with a double, two RBI’s, a walk, and two runs scored.
  • Alberto Mineo was 0-for-3 but walked twice, and scored three runs.

On the Mound:

  • Jen-Ho Tseng got the start was oddly erratic, he worked three innings, giving up three runs on six hits, while walking two.
  • Josh Conway was touched up as well, he worked one inning, giving up three runs on three hits while walking two, and striking out one.
  • Michael Heesch was outstanding, and he picked up the win.  Heesch worked three scoreless innings, surrendering two hits while striking out three.
  • Jasvir Rakkar was solid once again, he worked two scoreless innings to notch his third save of the year.

South Bend 5-4 Final

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 Two quick runs from Great Lakes was the extent of the scoring in this one as South Bend could not get anything going in a 2-0 loss.

At the Plate:

  • Charcer Burks continued his hot 2015, he was 1-for-4 with a stolen base, he’s now hitting .313 on the season.
  • Chesny Young is also swinging it, he went 1-for-4 in the loss.
  • Jason Volser, Justin Marra, and Rashad Crawford all finished the day with one hit.

On the Mound:

  •  Jake Stinnett wasn’t too bad, he worked five innings, giving up two runs on seven hits while walking one, and striking out five.
  • Francisco Carrillo was dominant, he worked three scoreless innings, surrendering one hit while striking out one.
  • Tyler Ihrig was also good, he worked a scoreless inning to keep the Cubs in it late.

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Cubs Rally to Win a Wild One

Cubs Final 4-21

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It’s noticeable, the Cubs don’t quit.  After blowing a 4-2 lead in the sixth, and falling behind 8-5 in the 7th, the Cubs charged back, scoring four times over the final two innings to win 9-8.  Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, the Cubs loaded the bases with no outs and Starlin Castro came through with his third hit of the evening to tie things up.  Kris Bryant scored on a Welington Castillo ground out, and Hector Rondon shut the door, what an absolutely outstanding victory.  With the win the Cubs have now won two games after trailing heading into the ninth, you know how many times that happened last year?  Zero.  Welcome to Chicago Cubs baseball, you should probably start watching.

At the Plate:

  • Anthony Rizzo is an on base machine, he was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, and he was hit by another pitch.
  • Jorge Soler finished strong in this 0ne, he was 2-for-5 with a double, and two runs scored.
  • Kris Bryant, just wow, he was 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, two RBI’s, and one run scored.
  • Starlin Castro is shutting a lot of people up, he was 3-for-5 with a dinger, four RBI’s, and a run scored.  He’s hitting .352 on the season.
  • Welington Castillo got a start tonight, and he made it count, he was 2-for-5 with a homer, double, two RBI’s, and a run scored.

On the Mound:

  • Travis Wood got the start tonight, and was decent, he worked five innings, giving up three runs on four hits while walking two, and striking out five.
  • Brian Schlitter continued his rough 2015, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up two runs on three hits while walking one.
  • Phil Coke got out of Schlitter’s trouble, he retired the last batter of the sixth.
  • Jason Motte struggled tonight, he worked one inning, giving up three runs on two hits while walking one.
  • Edwin Jackson was perfect tonight, and he picked up the win, he worked a scoreless inning while striking out one.
  • Hector Rondon was just disgusting tonight, he worked a scoreless ninth for his third save of the season.

Kris Bryant with an RBI double.

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Padres Take Series as Lester Remains Winless

Cubs Final 4-19

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Things started out well enough today as the Cubs jumped on the listless Padres with two runs in the bottom of the first.  I say listless because the Padres were sleepwalking in the first, they made two errors and looked generally disinterested.  From that point on it was all Padres, as they scored five unanswered runs en route to a 5-2 win.  Jon Lester was just okay again today, he worked into the sixth inning but made far too many mistakes up in the zone, he needs a road start or two to settle in.  The Cubs threatened a few times as they left the bases-loaded twice, and were just 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

At the Plate:

  • Dexter Fowler has been swinging it well as of late, he went 2-for-5 with a run scored.
  • Jorge Soler remains productive while hitting second in the order, he was 1-for-5 with an RBI, his ninth of the season.
  • Kris Bryant had another solid game, he was 1-for-3 with his first double of the season, he was also hit by a pitch.

On the Mound:

  • Jon Lester got the start in this one, and also the loss, he worked 5.1 innings, giving up three runs on six hits while walking two, and striking out four.
  • Brian Schlitter couldn’t get out of Lester’s trouble, he worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up one hit while striking out one.
  • Jason Motte couldn’t keep things close, he tossed one inning, giving up two runs on two hits.
  • Edwin Jackson had a solid outing out of the pen today, he worked two scoreless innings, he surrendered one hit.

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Wood Dazzles in Win Over Reds

Cubs Final 4-15

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Travis Wood was dominant all night long as the lefty shut down the Reds, and led the Cubs to a 5-0 victory to take the series.  It didn’t take long for the Cubs to grab a lead as Anthony Rizzo blasted his first home run of the season in the first, a majestic two-run shot to right.  The Cubs flashed the leather all night behind Wood, Starlin Castro in particular, he made two outstanding plays to help preserve the shut out, and the lead.  The only bad news in this one was an injury to Neil Ramirez, the right-hander left after just three pitches in the ninth inning.  Ramirez will go for an MRI tomorrow, the initial diagnosis is right shoulder discomfort, that doesn’t sound great.  First place!

At the Plate:

  • Dexter Fowler is proving to be a solid lead-off hitter for the Cubs, he was 2-for-4 with a walk, a double, and two runs scored.
  • Anthony Rizzo finally got on the board with a dinger, he was 1-for-4 with said homer, a walk, two RBI’s, and a run scored.
  • Jorge Soler continued his production, he was 1-for-3 with a walk, and an RBI.
  • Starlin Castro had an outstanding game, he was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, and a run scored.

Rizzo goes way back!

On the Mound:

  • All Travis Wood tonight, stellar.  He worked seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while walking two and striking out seven.
  • Phil Coke worked a solid scoreless inning in relief.
  • Neil Ramirez got hurt in the ninth, so Brian Schlitter had to close it out, he worked a scoreless inning, giving up one hit while striking out one.

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Jorge Soler Powers Cubs Past Reds

Cubs Final 4-13 Full Box Score

How about those Cubs?  I’m not going to lie, I’m excited, sure it’s only April, I don’t care, first place.  Jon Lester was off again tonight, but the bullpen picked him up and gave the club a chance to comeback.  That’s exactly what the Cubs did, they came back from two separate three run deficits to win 7-6 thanks for a walk-off single by Arismendy Alcantara.  The game doesn’t get there without Jorge Soler who jacked a pair of two-run homers, what a thrilling night.

At the Plate:

  • Anthony Rizzo was locked in tonight, he was 2-for-3 with two walks, and two runs scored.
  • Jorge Soler was outstanding tonight, he went 3-for-5 with two dingers, four RBI’s, and three runs scored.  He also had a tasty outfield assist.
  • Chris Coghlan continued his torrid start to the season, he went 3-for-4 with a home run, a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored.

On the Mound:

Alcantara wins it!

Soler with an unreal throw.

Soler ties it in the 8th with a bomb!

Soler’s first two-run shot.

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