Archive for the ‘ Did you know? ’ Category

Almora transferred to Kane County

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(Photo by Jason Wise)

Albert Almora has always felt most comfortable when he’s on a baseball diamond. For the first time during the 2013 regular season, he’ll get that opportunity.

The Cubs’ 2012 first-round draft pick was transferred to Single-A Kane County on Wednesday after missing the first portion of the season with a broken hamate bone in his wrist. The sixth overall pick of last year’s draft entered the season as the organization’s second-best prospect and minor league baseball’s No. 33 overall prospect, according to Baseball America. The publication also lists Almora as the best hitter for average and the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs minor league system.

After signing with the Cubs in early July, he split time between the Arizona Rookie League and Short-Season Boise. In 33 combined games, the outfielder hit .321/.331/.464 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 12 doubles in 140 at-bats.

Almora joins an impressive list of former first rounders to play for the Cougars including Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Joe Blanton.

Daytona Cubs’ Geiger named FSL Player of the Week

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(Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

At the outset of the season, everyone knew the Daytona Cubs’ roster was loaded with talent. Now the individual accolades are starting to pile up. On Monday, the Florida State League announced Cubs infielder Dustin Geiger was the league’s player of the week for the week ending May 19.

In the eight games during that stretch, the 21-year-old batted .469 (15-for-32) with a pair of homers, seven doubles, a triple, seven runs driven in and six runs scored. This season, the Merritt Island, Fla., native is hitting .333 with five home runs and a league-leading 36 RBI.

Geiger, a 24th round pick in the 2010 draft, joins outfielder Jorge Soler, shortstop Javier Baez and right-handed pitcher Ryan Searle as Daytona Cubs to win the award this season.

Cubs struggling to bring runners in

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Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is one of the few Cubs hitting well with runners in scoring position. (Photo by Stephen Green)

On many occasions throughout Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s tenure, he has made it clear that slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats) is his go-to number when evaluating a player’s approach at the plate.

On paper, the 2013 Cubs’ power stats look good. The team’s .420 slugging percentage is second best in the National League, largely thanks to the squad’s 48 homers (third in NL) and whopping 101 doubles (15 more than the next-highest NL total). But like many stats, these numbers can be a bit deceiving. While displaying strong power stats is never a bad thing, baseball is predicated on timely hitting. As the graph below indicates, the Cubs struggle with men in scoring position compared with other NL teams.

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The Cubs sit in the top five of most common statistical categories with nobody on base, but those same numbers drop drastically with men on second and/or third. It’s interesting to note that their home run and doubles don’t decrease, though the slash line takes a huge hit. We also looked at the eight regular position players to see how they have fared with the bases empty versus with runners in scoring position.

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Of the eight regulars, just two are hitting better with runners in scoring position than with the bases empty. And while Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena have a higher slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, the same cannot be said for the rest of the team.

The basic stats make it look like the Cubs have one of the better offenses in the National League, but they’re going to need some more timely hitting for those stats to have an impact in the standings.

Daytona’s Soler named FSL player of the week

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Jorge Soler might have gotten off to a rocky start this season, but the Cubs outfield prospect has been on a tear of late. On Tuesday, he was named the Florida State League player of the week for the week ending May 12.

In four games from May 6-12, the 21-year-old went 7-for-15 with a pair of homers, three doubles, a triple, four RBI and five runs scored. In addition, the organization’s No. 3 prospect (according to MLB.com) has reached base in 10 straight games. For the season, Soler is hitting .281/.369/542 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with five homers, eight doubles and 14 driven in.

The native of Cuba was suspended five games earlier in the year for an on-field altercation.

20 Years Ago Today: Mark Grace hits for the cycle

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Mark Grace is widely thought of as the best first baseman in Cubs history. His play is so well regarded, when Vine Line polled fans looking for the best Cubs player at each position for last July’s All-Star issue, Gracie received 64 percent of the votes at first base.

The three-time All-Star and hits leader of the 1990s enjoyed a solid 1993 campaign, batting .325/.393/.475 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 39 doubles and 98 driven in. He also earned a Gold Glove at first. But May 9, 1993, went down in history as one of Grace’s best days, as he went 4-for-5 and became the last Cubs player to hit for the cycle.

With the Cubs hosting the Padres on a warm Sunday, he took an 0-1 pitch in the bottom of the first to left-center field for a double. In the third inning, he stepped up again with a man on first and ripped a single back up the middle. After a lineout to right in the fifth inning, the 29-year-old tripled to left in the seventh. And with the Cubs trailing 5-1 in the bottom on the ninth and two on, he wrapped up his day with a three-run blast to right center, though the comeback bid would ultimately fall short.

Cubs bullpen has turned things around

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The first two weeks of the season were a struggle for the Cubs relief corps. Despite strong efforts from one of the NL’s best rotations in the club’s first 12 games, the bullpen blew four save opportunities, compiled a 5.82 ERA and repeatedly failed to secure victories in winnable games.

But the ‘pen’s performance in the last two weeks is making those early-season woes look like a thing of the past. In the last 13 games, the relievers have compiled a 1.85 ERA, third in the NL during that stretch. Though they still walk too many hitters (9.5 walk percentage, second highest in NL since April 16), the bullpen has found a way to get out of jams, leaving an NL-best 92.4 percent of runners on base.

The Cubs have been in every game this season—all but three have been decided by three runs or fewer and none by more than four—which means a strong bullpen is often the difference between winning and losing. What the team looks to have gained in recent weeks is a “give me the-ball” type finisher. Though manager Dale Sveum has not named a closer and prefers a bullpen-by-committee approach, the North Siders acquired veteran late-innings reliever Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers at the end of Spring Training. Since making his debut on April 19, Gregg has been lights out, surrendering no earned runs in his first six appearances and racking up four saves.

Despite Opening Day closer Carlos Marmol’s early failures, surrendering five earned runs in his first 1.2 innings pitched, he hasn’t given up a run since April 6. He has still walked eight batters in those nine innings, but he’s managed to miss a lot of bats in that time too, striking out nine.

The most consistent relief pitcher all season has been southpaw James Russell. The 26-year-old has leaned heavily on his 80 mph slider, throwing it 45 percent of the time, while mixing in a fastball and change-up. So far this season, his strikeout totals have improved dramatically. He’s now fanning 10.6 batters per nine, three K/9 better than last season. In 11 innings, he’s walked just one batter and hasn’t given up an earned run. He’s been so effective that his 0.6 wins above replacement (according to fangraphs.com) is tied for the best among relief pitchers in baseball.

To round things out, Shawn Camp looks like he might have rediscovered his 2012 form after struggling early, and waiver pickup Kameron Loe has been reliable in his five innings since being claimed off waivers from Seattle. Though the relievers’ .269 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) might indicate they’re pitching a little above their ability (an average BABIP is around .300), a solid effort from these pitchers all season long could make a big difference in 2013.

Opening Day Countdown: No. 2 Gabby Hartnett

Opening Day is just two days away. As Cubs fans prepare for pitcher Jeff Samardzija and the rest of the squad to kick off the regular season, we here at Vine Line are counting down the days in a unique way. For every day remaining until the season starts—today’s number is two—we’ll commemorate some of the best players to wear that number for the Cubs.

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Gabby Harnett is arguably the organization’s best catcher of all time. The Hall of Famer and 1935 NL MVP wore the No. 2 from 1937-40 and had 19 successful seasons as both a player and manager of the Cubs. Hartnett amassed 231 home runs in his Cubs career and tallied 1,153 RBI. He also carried a batting average of .297 with the franchise.

From 1938-40, Hartnett was also a player/manager. He took over the club midway through the 1938 season and led them to a pennant.

During his long career, Hartnett wore a few different Cubs jerseys, including Nos. 7 and 9.

Other Notables to wear the No. 2 include:

Billy Herman, Leo Durocher and Rick Wilkins. Third baseman Ian Stewart currently sports the number.

This Week in 1987: The Cubs sign Dawson’s blank contract

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After the 1986 season and 11 major league years playing at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Andre Dawson was tired of the wear and tear the merciless artificial turf was placing on his knees. While working on a deal with former Cubs General Manager Dallas Green, Dawson and uber-agent Dick Moss visited Cubs Spring Training camp in Mesa, Ariz., with a proposal. Dawson ignited a media firestorm when he presented Green with a signed contract and said he would play with the Cubs for whatever salary the GM felt was appropriate.

On March 6, 1987, the North Siders inked a deal with Dawson worth $500,000, well below market value for a player of his caliber. The outfielder went on to win the NL MVP, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger that season, leading the league in home runs and RBI. The Hawk spent the next six years with the Cubs, making five All-Star appearances during that stretch.

In 2010, the eight-time All-Star was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On This Date in 1998: Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray dies

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Any baseball fan has made at least one attempt to do their best Harry Caray impression. But nobody could excite a crowd like the man himself.

Monday marks the 15th anniversary of the beloved Cubs broadcaster’s death. Best known for singing the seventh inning stretch as well as openly rooting for the home team, Caray will also be remembered for his quirks up in the booth including unintentionally botching players names. His infamous “Holy Cow” home run call is still used today on the right field scoreboard.

Prior to working with the Cubs in 1981, Caray worked in the booth for the White Sox, the Athletics, and for the Cardinals and Browns in St. Louis.

Caray was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 for his contributions to baseball. He was also inducted into both the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame as well as the National Radio Hall of Fame.

The Cubs still honor the broadcasting icon by having a guest sing the stretch at every home game. He died at the age of 83.

On this Date in 1964: Ken Hubbs dies in a plane crash

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Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs was known for his solid glove.

In his rookie season of 1962, the 20-year-old racked up a then-MLB record 78 games and 418 chances without an error. That effort earned Hubbs a Gold Glove Award, making him the first-ever rookie to claim the prize. He was also steady at the plate that season, hitting .260 with 24 doubles. He received 19 of 20 NL Rookie of the Year votes to easily take home that honor. Though his numbers dipped the following season, he was still viewed as a solid player who would stick with the Cubs for a long time.

Ken Hubbs was also known for his fear of flying, which he was afraid would hinder his career as a professional athlete. Ron Santo discussed it in his autobiography, Ron Santo: For the Love of Ivy.

To overcome his fear, Hubbs decided to tackle it head-on. The infielder learned how to fly a plane and earned a pilot’s license in the winter prior to the 1964 season. On Feb. 12, 1964, he planned to fly his friend Larry Doyle from California to Provo, Utah, to surprise Doyle’s wife who was visiting her mother.

A snowstorm came across Utah the morning of the 13th, but Hubbs and Doyle decided to go anyway in the second baseman’s Cessna 172. Just minutes after the plane took off from Provo Airport, it crashed into a nearby lake. Two days later, the plane was found, and both men were dead. Hubbs was just 22 years old.

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