The Cubs Convention is over, and the brain trust of the Chicago Cubs is back to work. Earlier this morning the Cubs acquired Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros for RHP Dan Straily, and bat flipping third baseman Luis Valbuena. It’s the latest in a string of moves this off-season that signal the Cubs are no longer the doormat of Major League baseball, and have turned the corner in their building process.
Dan Straily was acquired from Oakland last year in the Jeff Samardzija deal, and Luis Valbuena was a waiver wire pickup. Theo and Jed were able to turn that into Dexter Fowler, who will be the everyday centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs, he might play some left field as well. Fowler is the prototypical lead-off man, the kind that Joe Maddon loves, and that the Cubs have been without for so very long. Fowler is an on base machine, .366 OBP for his career, and finished 2014 at a .375 clip. You know what you are going to get with Fowler, he puts the bat on the ball, and isn’t afraid to take a walk, 60+ walks is the norm for Fowler. This move opens up a number of possibilities for the Cubs heading into 2015.
TIME FOR KRIS BRYANT!!! Well, not exactly. I know Cubs fans all over want to see Kris Bryant at third base opening night, I do too, but let’s be realistic. The Cubs have always pushed the service time issues with their prospects, and I doubt that the Cubs will fold now. However, if Bryant forces the Cubs hand with a solid Spring Training then he might end up starting the season on the Northside. Let’s just say that he doesn’t, and starts the season in Iowa, Bryant will be on the bleachers schedule, not ready for opening day, but spectacular when opened/called up. My best guess is that Mike Olt will be given every opportunity to start the season at third base. Olt is healthy, and has shown the ability to beat the crap out of the baseball, and play a better than average third base, so he’s the first choice. I could also see Arismendy Alcantara moving back to second base with newcomer Tommy La Stella, and Javier Baez moving to third. The important point here is that the Cubs have seemingly endless options with their every day lineup, something Joe Maddon is a wizard with, and I’m excited to see what he will do.
Pitchers, and catchers report in less than a month, and the hype machine is already in overdrive.
The Cubs go for their third straight win this afternoon as they take on the Rockies at Cubs Park in Mesa. Jeff Samardzija will make his second start of the spring looking to build on his strong debut from last week, expect three to four innings for Shark.
1. Kalish – LF
2. Valbuena – 3B
3. Lake – CF
4. Roberts – 1B
5. Baez – SS
6. Kottaras – C
7. Jackson – RF
8. Valaika – 2B
9. McDonald – DH
SP – Samardzija
The Cubs bench looks a little more exciting than the lineup:
No TV today, but there it MLB.com radio.
It really doesn’t get much better than this, I mean I’m a Cubs fan, it’s the small victories that make me happy because the larger ones aren’t here yet and haven’t been for some time. I have faith the bigger wins will be here soon enough, until then I am going to bask in the glow of the Cubs beating the crap out of the White Sox this week. It was the Travis Wood show today as he worked six solid innings for his fifth win of the season, and blasted his second home run of the season which also happened to be a grand slam. The three game “series” between the Cubs this week ended with the Cubs winning all three, and outscoring the Sox 24-6. That’s fun to say.
PICTURE OF THE GAME
Scott Feldman and the Cubs pitchers have basically said that’s enough and are tired of waiting around for their offense to do anything so they are taking things into their own hands. Feldman launched a two run shot to give the Cubs an early 3-0 lead but you know those don’t last, silly. Feldman had one really bad inning which included a Ryan Hanigan 330′ three run homer, and the Cubs couldn’t find anymore offense the rest of the way as the Reds took game one of the series 7-4.
PICTURE OF THE GAME
Carlos Villanueva can’t buy a win as he has left with a lead in five of his seven starts this year, the Cubs pen has blown the lead now in four of those five starts. Villanueva didn’t have his best stuff today but still got into the seventh inning with a 4-3 lead. The usually reliable James Russell took over in the seventh and gave up back-to-back hits which resulted in the Cardinals knotting the game up. Michael Bowden worked the eighth inning and surrendered the game winning run as the Cubs couldn’t generate anything in the final two innings. The bullpen was half the story, double plays and missed opportunities were the other half. The Cubs seemingly had men on base all day long, but grounded into four double plays to thwart any rally they might have had. The Cardinals weren’t much better, but did get the big hit in the eighth inning when they needed it, but they also grounded in to four double plays, odd game in that regard for sure. Really wanted a sweep for the Cubs, and of course they were in position to get one, eventually these blown leads have to stop…..I think.
At The Plate – The Cubs pounded out eleven hits, but could only manage four runs as they were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and they had that double play issue that I already mentioned. Luis Valbuena got a chance in the three spot today and delivered a solid game going 1-for-2 with two walks, and two runs scored. Anthony Rizzo continues to roll, he was 3-for-4 with a double, and a run scored, all of a sudden he is hitting .269 on the season. Cody Ransom continues to hit for the Cubs, he was 2-for-4 with two singles in the loss.
On The Mound – Carlos Villanueva wasn’t at his best, but did more than enough to pick up a win in this one, alas, a no decision for the funny facial hair guy. Villanueva went 6.2 innings giving up three runs on seven hits while walking three and striking out two. James Russell wasn’t his usual self in this one, he was asked to get the last out in the seventh, he did, but not after giving up a run on two hits. Michael Bowden worked the eighth and took the loss, he gave up one run on two hits. Kevin Gregg, the Cubs new closer (officially), worked a scoreless ninth to keep the Cubs in it, he walked one and struck out two.
Up Next – A day off tomorrow. Then a three game weekend series in Washington, the full series preview will be up tomorrow, going to be a tough series for sure.
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The weird and not so wonderful saga of Ian Stewart continues. In the off-season the Cubs decided to bring Ian Stewart back under the assumption, well not really an assumption, but the thought that he was 100% over the wrist issues that plagued him for two years. Ian Stewart received a two million dollar contract from the Cubs, guaranteed money, meaning no matter where Stewart ended up he would get paid. Stewart was excited to prove everyone wrong, and give the Cubs a solid healthy season, or so it seemed, then came the spring training injury. The injury lingered, then it lingered some more, just recently Stewart returned to Iowa to begin rehab. After a week or so of mediocrity it was clear that Ian Stewart had fallen behind and his “rehab” assignment was really more of a destination than a stop over. Dale Sveum was pretty blunt, “He’s a AAA player”… I suppose that was the writing on the wall for Stewart, or at least he was being served notice. With Sveum’s comment one could now be confident in saying that Ian Stewart was behind Luis Valbuena, and Cody Ransom at the big league level, and wasn’t going to get back there until he deserved it.
Things got worse for Stewart, this past week Josh Vitters returned from his season long DL stint and extended spring training. Vitters went right into the starting lineup at third base for Iowa, and produced immediately, that led to today where the Cubs announced that they removed Stewart from the 40-man roster, and waived him, but he went unclaimed. Red flags everywhere, no team in the entire league wanted Ian Stewart for essentially free. To me, that points to not just a health issue, but an attitude problem, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s it. I hope you’re still following, Ian Stewart was waived, went unclaimed, then he was removed from the 40-man roster, and outrighted to Iowa (which he accepted, because he gets to keep his $2 million bucks) where he was already located… ahhhhh! Stewart remains on the bench now behind Vitters, and things are just going to get tougher for him as Junior Lake is close to returning, and odds are he will be ahead of Stewart as well. I don’t like to see players pushed out, what I really don’t like seeing is players given a third or fourth opportunity to prove themselves seemingly lack the effort to do so. Again, no one is saying that his attitude is the issue, however it seems like that could be the case given how quickly all of this transpired. So Ian Stewart is still Cubs property, but looks to have a long road ahead of him before he gets out of Iowa, or even back on the field at Iowa.
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Those are fun games to watch, and this was the first game all year where everyone could sit back and enjoy the ride instead of worrying about how the Cubs would close it out. Scott Feldman got plenty of run support in this one as the Cubs exploded for nine runs, their largest output of the season. Feldman will gladly take the run support but really didn’t need it, he was brilliant for the second straight outing, and has really been a pleasant surprise all year-long. Tonight was a preview of what the Cubs want to be every night, solid at bats, deep counts, using the whole field, and solid starting pitching. The trick is doing this consistently, it’s not there yet, but I think it’s heading in the right direction. The Cubs were holding a tenuous 1-0 lead into the fourth inning when they exploded for five runs en route to a 9-2 victory, and a delayed series win over the Rangers..
At The Plate – So many good things tonight as the Cubs pounded out eleven hits and scored nine runs. Starlin Castro was 2-for-4 with a walk, for reals, two RBI’s and three runs scored. Anthony Rizzo is dialed in at the plate right now, and it’s fun to watch. Rizzo was 3-for-4 with a walk, his ninth home run of the season, a double, four RBI’s, and a run scored, he is now hitting .262 on the season. Luis Valbuena continues to defy logic as he went 3-for-4 with a double, and a run scored, he’s now hitting .271 on the season.
On The Mound – What else can be said about Scott Feldman, he was awesome against his former team tonight. Feldman went seven plus scoreless innings giving up two hits while walking one and striking out three. The only bad news was that Feldman had to leave the game in the eighth with a cramp in his throwing hand, after the game Sveum said that Feldman would be fine. James Russell worked two-thirds of an inning giving up one hit and no runs. Rafael Dolis, who was called up today, got some work in as well, he worked 1.1 innings giving up two runs, both unearned on two hits.
Up Next – The Cubs welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to Wrigley for a brief two game series starting tomorrow. Travis Wood will get the ball and he will be opposed by Lance Lynn who already has five wins this season. First pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM CST.
Thanks for reading,