Shin-Soo Choo has helped guide the Reds offense this season. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Reds are still trailing the Cardinals by four games in the NL Central, but Dusty Baker’s club has shown remarkable resilience after a spate of early-season injuries. Though Cincinnati lost both cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick and rotation ace Johnny Cueto for the season’s opening months, they have been able to ride three strengths to a 37-26 record: their deep pitching staff, an above-average defense that has converted 71 percent of balls in play into outs, and the two best players in baseball at getting on base. And the roster is deep enough that Baker doesn’t have to do anything crazy. Once the lineup starts firing on all pistons, watch out.
HITTING: 4.6 RS/G (3rd in NL)
The Reds lost Ludwick from the heart of the order and endured slow starts from most of their regulars, so why are they still scoring runs by the truckload? Quite simply because they have the best on-base combo in baseball atop their order in Shin-Soo Choo and former NL MVP Joey Votto. With both getting on base more than 40 percent of the time, they’re creating a tremendous number of scoring opportunities. That’s part of the reason Brandon Phillips is among the league leaders in RBI (46) filling in for Ludwick in the middle of the lineup. Phillips is plating 19 percent of his men on base—a good mark—but he is also batting with the highest total of runners on base. Once Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart start slugging the way they can, the Reds’ offense could be the league’s best.
PITCHING: 3.8 RA/G (4th in NL)
Cueto’s continued absence has been a big blow, but the Reds have had the depth to deal with it so far, thanks in part to power lefty Tony Cingrani, who is expected to get the start Tuesday against Matt Garza. If Wednesday’s starter, Mike Leake, doesn’t add deception to his repertoire, he might be at risk of losing his job to Cingrani this season. In the meantime, Monday’s starter Homer Bailey’s development into a topline starter has rewarded the organization’s faith in the former first-rounder, while Bronson Arroyo continues to be the staff workhorse, never impressing the radar gun but spinning innumerable variations off his offspeed junk. The ’pen is similarly deep. Lefty Aroldis Chapman may get the most save opportunities, but on nights when his triple-digit heat is a little wild, Baker hasn’t been afraid to turn to rookie righty J.J. Hoover. Veteran set-up men Sean Marshall (currently on the DL again) and Jonathan Broxton also offer closing experience.
Starling Marte’s play has benefited the Pirates this season. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Will 20 be the charm? That’s how many seasons the Pirates have gone without reaching the .500 mark, but this could be the year they get there and beyond. Thanks to a number of additions, superstar Andrew McCutchen finally has enough talent surrounding him that he doesn’t have to shoulder the entire load. Though Pittsburgh enters the series on a three-game losing streak, they’re still 10 games over .500. They are also tied for first in the league in defensive efficiency, converting 73.4 percent of all balls in play into outs. Part of that is the result of adding Starling Marte to the outfield mix and moving Garrett Jones back to first base, but Pedro Alvarez’s improvement at third base has been another important development. Preseason concerns about a bullpen backed by journeyman Jason Grilli have also come to naught. The Bucs’ relief corps has been the league’s best at stranding base runners, allowing just 17 percent to score in the opening months.
HITTING: 3.7 RS/G, 12th in the NL
Improving McCutchen’s supporting cast has elevated the Pirates’ offense to league average—or maybe better when you consider they don’t play in a bandbox. The biggest surprises have been Marte’s development as an everyday left fielder with both power and speed, and veteran catcher Russell Martin’s rediscovery of the batting stroke that once made him a Dodger prodigy. Clint Hurdle has also used platoons effectively, pairing Jones with Gaby Sanchez at first base to get more power, and Travis Snider with Jose Tabata (currently on the DL) in right field for OBP. Homegrown talents Neil Walker and Alvarez are expected to return to form and provide the kind of power they have in the past. Plus, McCutchen is capable of slugging .600 for months at a time—put that in the middle of this order, and the Pirates’ offense won’t be mistaken for average much longer.
PITCHING: 3.5 RA/G, 3rd in the NL
The Pirates’ pitching staff has been a revelation in the early going, but will it hold up all season? So far, the boost has had more to do with the team’s slow accumulation of veteran talent than any real breakthroughs from young prospects (though left-hander Jeff Locke, who starts Sunday, is off to a strong start). A.J. Burnett’s late-career renaissance in the NL has stretched into a second season, giving the Pirates a top-shelf starter capable of outdueling contenders’ top guns and cranking out double-digit strikeout totals. With veteran lefty Francisco Liriano settling in behind him, the Pirates could have the starting pitching to sustain a postseason run. The problem so far has been injuries. Wandy Rodriguez recently left a start against Atlanta complaining of forearm pain, and James McDonald and Charlie Morton are both on the DL. One ugly wrinkle to Burnett’s performance: He’s not much for thwarting the running game, as the first 13 stolen-base attempts against him this year were all successful. But when Burnett isn’t on the bump, Pirates catchers are gunning down one-third of all base stealers.
Eric Jokisch pitched his first complete game Thursday with the Smokies. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
Iowa and Kane County suffered shutout losses and Tennessee dropped both games in a doubleheader match Thursday. Daytona was unable to take the field due to rain, and the two-game outing will not be rescheduled. Despite the offensive shortcomings, here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (25-33)
Iowa lost for the seventh time in eight games, falling 6-0 vs. Round Rock.
- 2B Logan Watkins (.236) extended his hitting streak to nine games (.286/12-for-42), going 1-for-4 with a double (9).
- C Steve Clevenger (.400) went 1-for-3 with a walk and a double (3) in the third game of his rehabilitation assignment. He has hit safely in all three games.
Tennessee Smokies (31-28)
Game 1: Tennessee mustered only four hits in a 5-0 setback vs. Jackson in the first game of a doubleheader.
- CF Matt Szczur (.292) went 1-for-4 with a double (13), extending his hitting streak to five games (.438/7-for-16).
- C Chad Noble (.394) went 1-for-3 with a double (3). He has hit safely in four consecutive games (.533/8-for-15).
- SS Arismendy Alcantara (.292) reached base safely for the 17th straight game, going 1-for-2 with a walk.
Game 2: Jackson scored two runs in the third inning and held on for a 2-1 victory over the Smokies in the nightcap, sweeping the doubleheader.
- 2B Ronald Torreyes (.250) went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double (11) and a run scored. He has hit safely in six of his last seven games (.385/10-for-26).
- C Rafael Lopez (.266) went 2-for-3 with a RBI (16).
- LHP Eric Jokisch recorded his seventh quality start in 12 appearances, tossing his first complete game (7 IP).
Kane County Cougars (26-31)
Burlington blanked Kane County 9-0 in the middle game of a three-game set.
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.267) extended his hitting streak to six games, going 2-for-4.
- CF Albert Almora (.415) went 1-for-4. He has 22 hits in 53 at-bats this season.
- On Wednesday, six Cougars were named to the Midwest League Western Division All-Star team: INF Dan Vogelbach, INF Rock Shoulders, OF Bijan Rademacher, RHP Tayler Scott, RHP Felix Pena and LHP Nathan Dorris. Vogelbach will start at DH. This marks the Cougars’ most mid-season All-Stars since the 2009 squad fielded seven.
Rock Shoulders reached base three times Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Kane County Cougars)
While Kane County overpowered their opponent Wednesday, Tennessee and Daytona rescheduled for doubleheader matches due to rain. Iowa had the day off, but will take the field against Round Rock tonight. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Kane County Cougars (26-30)
Kane County used a 14-hit attack to overpower host Burlington, 8-6.
- RF Reggie Golden (.368) collected his third multi-hit affair in his last four games, going 3-for-4 with two RBI (3).
- LF Oliver Zapata (.264) went 2-for-5 with two doubles (7), a run scored, a RBI (22) and a stolen base (8).
- 1B Dan Vogelbach (.282) reached base four times, going 2-for-3 with two walks, a double (12), a homer, a team-high three runs scored and two RBI (39).
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.262) extended his hitting streak to five games, going 2-for-5 with a run and a RBI (19).
- DH Rock Shoulders (.270) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a RBI (37).
- RHP Felix Pena (2.11 ERA) converted his first save, allowing a hit and a walk while fanning three in 2.0 scoreless innings of relief.
- Six Cougars were named to the Midwest League Western Division All-Star team: INF Dan Vogelbach, INF Rock Shoulders, OF Bijan Rademacher, RHP Tayler Scott, RHP Felix Pena and LHP Nathan Dorris. Vogelbach will start at DH. This marks the Cougars’ most mid-season All-Stars since the 2009 squad fielded seven.
Dustin Geiger is one of four Daytona Cubs who will participate in the FSL All-Star Game. (Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
Many had a feeling that—if nothing else—the High-A Daytona Cubs would be an entertaining offensive squad. Several of the organization’s top prospects comprise the middle of a batting order that already housed a healthy balance of power and speed. So it should come as no surprise that four position players—John Andreoli, Javier Baez, Dustin Geiger and Jorge Soler—will be representing the D-Cubs in the Florida State League All-Star Game.
The 22-year-old Andreoli leads the team in hitting (.320) and on-base percentage (.390) and has 15 stolen bases, after leading the FSL in stolen bases last season. In a league known for its pitching, the outfielder is just one of seven players with an average of .310 or better. He was the Cubs’ 17th round pick in 2011.
By this point, most Cubs fans should be familiar with phenom Javier Baez. The shortstop, who will be making his All-Star debut next weekend, is widely considered the organization’s top prospect. Already an FSL player of the week recipient, Baez has a team-best nine homers to go along with his 36 RBI and a .278/.324/.514 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line. The 20-year-old was the ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Geiger has put together a solid campaign, especially considering it’s his first full professional season as an everyday first baseman. The 21-year-old has a .299/.368/.471 line with six homers batting out of the five spot in the order. He has also drawn 21 walks and leads the team with 47 RBI. The Cubs drafted Geiger in the 24th round of the 2010 draft.
The Cuban-born Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012, and early returns are promising. His eight home runs are second on the team, and he leads the squad with an .855 OPS. He’s batting .291 on the year and doing it all while still assimilating to the American culture. Most prospect lists have the outfielder ranked as one of the top three players in the system.
The FSL All-Star Game will be played on Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m. EST at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla.
Javier Baez is one of four D-Cubs players that were named 2013 All-Stars by the FSL Tuesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Iowa snapped a six-game skid, Tennessee continued its hot streak and Daytona collected its third shutout in its last seven games. Kane County was off Tuesday, but will return to the field at Burlington tonight. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (25-32)
Iowa scored seven runs in the fifth inning on its way to a 10-2 win over visiting New Orleans, snapping a six-game skid.
- 2B Logan Watkins (.236) went 3-for-5 with two runs. He has hit safely in eight straight games (.289/11-for-38).
- RF Brian Bogusevic (.355) went 2-for-4 with a walk, a home run, two runs scored and three RBI (24).
- 1B Brad Nelson (.283) collected his second consecutive multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a three-run homer.
- C Steve Clevenger (.429) went 2-for-4 with a double (2) and a run scored in the second game of his rehabilitation assignment.
Tennessee Smokies (31-26)
Tennessee collected eight extra-base hits, defeating Jackson 8-6, the Smokies third straight win.
- 2B Ronald Torreyes (.247) extended his hitting streak to five games (.400/8-for-20), going 2-for-5 with a home run, a run scored and two RBI (19).
- RF Matt Szczur (.292) went 3-for-5 with two doubles (12), two runs scored, three RBI (26) and a stolen base (15).
- C Chad Noble (.400) went 4-for-5 with a double (2), a run scored and a RBI (4). He has hit safely in three consecutive games (.583/7-for-12).
- LF Ty Wright (.248) went 2-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored and a RBI (16).
- SS Arismendy Alcantara (.290) reached base safely for the 16th straight game, going 3-for-5 with two doubles (13) and a RBI (30).
Daytona Cubs (29-27)
Daytona collected its third shutout in the last seven games, blanking Bradenton, 1-0.
- LF John Andreoli (.320) went 2-for-4 with a stolen base (16).
- 2B Tim Saunders (.191) went 2-for-4.
- DH Yaniel Cabezas (.250) went 0-for-3 with a walk, scoring the only run of the game.
- LHP Frank Del Valle (4 IP, 4 H, 4 K) converted the save, throwing a season-high, four scoreless innings.
- Prior to the game, the Florida State League announced that outfielders John Andreoli and Jorge Soler and infielders Javier Baez and Dustin Geiger were named 2013 First-Half All-Stars.
Mike Trout has held the Angels’ offense together this season. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Big contracts have left the Angels with outsized disappointment so far in 2013, one year after the Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings failed to ignite the team past a third place finish in the AL West. This winter, the Angels came out of nowhere to snatch up free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, but the early returns have been equally unsettling. With Hamilton hitting for a .216 AVG/.280 OBP/.380 SLG slash line, and Pujols not much better at .243/.315/.408, the Angels sit in third place once again at just 25-33. The Cubs head to the City of Angels for quick a two-game set starting tonight.
HITTING: 4.3 RS/G 10th in AL
To focus too much on Pujols’ and Hamilton’s struggles would overlook one of the game’s most outstanding players: 21-year-old phenom Mike Trout. The electric outfielder is backing up his breakout campaign with a .299/.371/.547 slash line, with 10 home runs and 12 steals in 15 tries. Combined with very good outfield defense, Trout’s versatile skill set is matched by few—if any—in baseball. He’s also been manning center field while Peter Bourjos, a consistently outstanding outfielder, continues to rehab from a strained hamstring that has kept him out for more than a month. With Hamilton swinging at, and missing, everything and Pujols hobbled by a lingering knee issue, the Angels have had to rely too much on Trout, slugging first baseman Mark Trumbo and second baseman Howie Kendrick for offense. The net result has been roughly league average but with little indication of how the performances will even out in the long run.
PITCHING: 4.6 RA/G 10th in NL
Though the Angels have some depth issues in the back end of the rotation and in the late innings, the Cubs will face some tough matchups the next few nights. Right-hander Jered Weaver takes the hill Tuesday in his second start back from a broken left elbow. Weaver has established himself as one of the game’s true aces despite seeming to have rather ordinary stuff. His fastball velocity has declined steadily to the high-80s, and his strikeout rate has dropped along with it. But Weaver makes such outstanding use of deception, location and sequencing, that he’s consistently ranked as one of the AL’s most unhittable pitchers. The Cubs’ right-handed hitters will have to be particularly wary of the change-up (a rarity from same-handed pitchers), while both sides will see fastballs sneaking up on them with two strikes. Wednesday night’s starter is left-hander Jason Vargas, an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has so far made the transition nicely from spacious Safeco Field to the more neutral Angels Stadium. Vargas is primarily a fastball-curve pitcher, who will sink and cut his fastball to get hitters out in front. Hard-throwing Ernesto Frieri holds down the ninth—at least until veteran addition Ryan Madson returns from injury. Frieri’s a relative wild card due to extremely high walk and strikeout rates.
Rick Sutcliffe (right) will be throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch next Wednesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs kick off a seven-game homestand Friday, as they welcome the Pirates and Reds to town. If you’re headed out to Wrigley Field between June 7 and June 13, here’s your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineup:
Friday – 6/7
Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern Football Coach)
Saturday – 6/8
Seventh-Inning Stretch: Ernie Banks (Ernie Banks retired flag giveaway for the first 10,000 fans)
First Pitch: Thomas Ian Nicholas (Actor, Rookie of the Year)
Sunday – 6/9
Randy Hundley (Chicago Cubs great, season tickets feature Randy Hundley)
Monday – 6/10
Cast from The Book of Mormon
Tuesday – 6/11
Arsenio Hall (Talk show host)
Wednesday – 6/12
Rick Sutcliffe (Chicago Cubs great)
Thursday – 6/13
Steve Clevenger recorded three RBI in the first game of his rehabilitation with Iowa. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Iowa and Daytona both fell short Monday while Tennessee swept a doubleheader match and Kane County’s offensive outburst demolished an early setback. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (24-32)
New Orleans scored five runs in the 13th inning, sending Iowa to their sixth straight loss, 10-5.
- CF Brett Jackson (.245) collected his first four-hit game of the season, going 4-for-6 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBI (16).
- 1B Brad Nelson (.278) went 2-for-5 with a double (10).
- C Steve Clevenger (.333) went 1-for-3 with a double (1) and three RBI (3) in the first game of his rehab assignment.
- LHP Hisanori Takahashi (3 IP, H, 5 K) recorded season-highs in innings pitched and strikeouts.
Tennessee Smokies (30-26)
Game 1: Kyle Hendricks threw a seven-inning, complete-game shutout as the Smokies defeated Jackson 2-0 in the first game of a doubleheader.
- DH Arismendy Alcantara (.282) went 1-for-3 with a RBI (29). He has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games.
- RHP Kyle Hendricks tossed his fifth consecutive quality start and earned his sixth win.
Game 2: Tennessee reached base 13 times in six innings, defeating Jackson 7-1 in the nightcap.
- 3B Christian Villanueva (.265) extended his hitting streak to four games (.467/7-for-15), going 2-for-4 with a home run, a run scored and two RBI (31).
- 2B Ronald Torreyes (.242) went 3-for-3 with a double (10), two runs scored and two RBI (17).
- RHP Tony Zych (1.1 IP, H, BB, K) earned his second win in relief.
Daytona Cubs (28-27)
Daytona allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, falling 5-3 at Bradenton.
- C Yaniel Cabezas (.400) went 2-for-3 with two doubles (2), a run scored and a RBI (1).
- 3B Ben Carhart (.275) went 1-for-4 with a RBI (29) and a stolen base (3). He has hit safely in his last five games (.381/8-for-21).
- SS Javier Baez (.280) extended his hitting streak to three games (.571/8-for-14), going 1-for-4 with a double (16) and a run scored.
- RF Jorge Soler (.294) went 1-for-3 with a RBI (31). He has hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games and collected RBI in four straight games.
Kayne County (25-30)
Cedar Rapids scored five runs in back-to-back innings, overcoming a four-run deficit to defeat Kane County, 10-4.
- RF Reggie Golden (.267) collected his second multi-hit game in his last three outings, going 2-for-4 with a walk and his first home run of the season.
- DH Rock Shoulders (.264) went 2-for-4 with a walk and a RBI (36), snapping a five-game hitless skid.
- 2B Gioskar Amaya (.263) went 2-for-5 with a run scored.
- CF Albert Almora (.455) went 1-for-4 with a walk, run scored and a stolen base (1). He has hit safely in nine of his first 11 games, including his last three (.500/6-for-12).
Jorge Soler has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games with the D-Cubs. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Kane County broke a four-game skid and Daytona secured a two-game win streak while Iowa continued to struggle Sunday. Tennessee was unable to play due to inclement weather, but will make up their game against Jackson in a doubleheader tonight. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (24-31)
Iowa dropped its fifth straight game, falling to visiting New Orleans, 5-3.
- CF Dave Sappelt (.276) went 2-for-4 with a run scored, a stolen base (1) and an outfield assist.
- 1B Brent Lillibridge (.282) went 1-for-4 with a double (5) and a RBI (8).
- RHP Michael Bowden (0.00) scattered a hit and a walk while fanning three in 1.2 scoreless innings of relief.
Daytona Cubs (28-26)
Daytona won its second game in a row, blanking host Brevard County 5-0 in a seven-inning, rain-shortened affair.
- 3B Ben Carhart (.275) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a team-high two runs scored.
- SS Javier Baez (.281) went 2-for-4 with a run scored and a RBI (36).
- RF Jorge Soler (.294) went 1-for-4 with two RBI (30). He has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games.
Kayne County (25-29)
Kane County ended its four-game skid, walking off with a 3-2, 10-inning victory over visiting Cedar Rapids.
- CF Albert Almora (.475) recorded his sixth multi-hit outing in his first 10 games, going 3-for-4 with a walk, a double (6) and a run scored.
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.259) recorded his second-straight, multi-hit game, going 3-for-5.
- DH Dan Vogelbach (.283) reached base three times, going 2-for-4 with a walk, a double (11), a homer, two runs scored and a RBI (37).
- RHP Eddie Orozco (3-3, 4.58) earned the win in relief, fanning one in a scoreless 10th frame.