Archive for the ‘ Matchups ’ Category

Home Series No. 24 Preview: Cubs vs. Reds

FrazierMesoroco

Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier (right) have been bright spots for an inconsistent Reds lineup. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Reds spent most of the first half pushing to make the NL Central a very intriguing four-team race, but a rash of injuries finally caught up with them. Since July, the team has been 28-40 and is now just 71-79 overall, a far cry from reaching the one-game NL playoff round like they did in 2013. Given Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Devin Mesoraco and Mat Latos have all missed significant time, it was almost inevitable the Reds would eventually fall off the pace. However, much like the Cubs, this year is hardly a complete loss, as they’ve seen several players emerge as key pieces that could help them contend in the near future.

PITCHING
(3.8 RA/G, 7TH IN NL)*

Tuesday’s starter Johnny Cueto has become the anchor of the Reds rotation and should be a legitimate Cy Young candidate. On Monday, the Cubs will see All-Star Alfredo Simon, who’s tailed off after having a strong start to the season. Despite the dropoff, he’s still 3-0 in four starts with a 1.40 ERA against the Cubs this year. Daniel Corcino is scheduled to make his second career MLB start Wednesday. His fastball/slider combo led to a 28 percent strikeout rate this year at Triple-A. The bullpen has had some issues this year as well. Aroldis Chapman is still one of the more dominant closers in baseball, but the innings leading up to Chapman’s have been troublesome. The Reds’ relief group is 14th in bullpen ERA and save percentage.

HITTING
(3.7 RS/G, 13TH IN NL)

The Reds have struggled to score runs for much of the season. A lot of that has to do with the absence of Votto and his career .417 on-base percentage. He’s only played in 62 games this season due to quad strains. Phillips has continued his downward trend, showing only modest on-base skills to go along with his diminished power. Mesoraco has had a good year, hitting .280/.366/.541 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 23 homers and 74 driven in, while Todd Frazier (.280 AVG, 26 homers, 75 RBI, 20 stolen bases) has helped carry the load. If inconsistent rookie Billy Hamilton can get his OBP to league-average levels, he could be a real asset.

Cubs, Giants set to resume Tuesday’s suspended game Thursday afternoon

RainDelay
As announced today by Major League Baseball, the Tuesday, August 19, game against the San Francisco Giants is scheduled to resume tomorrow at Wrigley Field.  The game will resume at 4:05 p.m. CT with the Cubs batting in the bottom of the 5th inning.  Following the conclusion of the game, the Cubs and Giants will play their regularly-scheduled game at 7:05 p.m.

Ticket holders from the Tuesday, August 19, game may redeem their tickets for tomorrow’s 4:05 p.m. game and remain for the regularly-scheduled 7:05 p.m. contest against the Giants.  Ticket holders for tomorrow’s 7:05 p.m. game may also attend the 4:05 p.m. game from their ticketed seats.

To redeem tickets, fans must present the Tuesday, August 19, game ticket at the Wrigley Field Ticket Office. Tickets may be redeemed for the best comparable seats and are subject to availability. They cannot be refunded or exchanged for cash value.

Tuesday, August 19, ticket holders who cannot make tomorrow’s  game may opt for a complimentary weeknight game at Wrigley Field during the remainder of the 2014 season as announced today by the team.

1990s Homestand Promotions and Guests: 8/19/14-8/24/14

Wrigley Field Tote Bag
This Wrigley Field 100 tote will be given to the first 10,000 fans on Saturday, Aug. 23.

The 1990s marked the arrival of Sammy Sosa, a stretch of continued excellence by Mark Grace, a dazzling performance by Kerry Wood and a Wild Card Tiebreaker win for the ages. Starting Tuesday, Aug. 19, the Cubs welcome the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles to town for a 1990s-themed celebration. Fans can relive the decade along with Chris Chelios, Gary Sinise and many more.

Here are the other guests and promotions you’ll find at the Friendly Confines during the six-game set.

1990s Homestand Recap, August 19-24

Tuesday, August 19, Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m.

  • Promotion: Cubs Floppy Hat presented by Pepsi and Jewel-Osco (first 10,000 fans)
  • First pitch: Members of the WNBA Chicago Sky basketball team
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Wayne Messmer, longtime Cubs national anthem singer
  • Broadcast: CSN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, WRTO 1200-AM Spanish Radio, Cubs.com

Wednesday, August 20, Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m.

  • Special Event: Star Wars Night
  • First pitch: Mark Duplass, actor from The League and The Mindy Project
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Chris Chelios, former Blackhawks player
  • Broadcast: WCIU-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, WRTO 1200-AM Spanish Radio, Cubs.com

Thursday, August 21, Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants, 7:05 p.m.

  • Special Event: Social Media Night
  • First pitch: Social Media Night winner
  • Seventh-inning stretch: TBD
  • Broadcast: CSN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Friday, August 22, Chicago Cubs vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1:20 p.m.

  • Promotion: Kerry Wood 20-Strikeout Bobblehead presented by Budweiser (first 10,000 adults 21+)
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Gary Sinise, actor, producer and director
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Saturday, August 23, Chicago Cubs vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1:20 p.m.

  • Promotion: Wrigley Field Tote Bag presented by Starwood Preferred Guest (first 10,000 fans)
  • First pitch and Seventh-inning stretch: John Groce, Fighting Illini basketball coach; Members of the band O.A.R.
  • Broadcast: CSN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Sunday, August 24, Chicago Cubs vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1:20 p.m.

  • Throwback uniforms: Retro 1994 alternate uniform
  • Promotion: ’90s Throwback Gracie the Swan Beanie Baby (first 5,000 children)
  • First pitch: TBD
  • Seventh-inning stretch: TBD
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

For more information on Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday celebration, please visit wrigleyfield100.com.

 

Home Series No. 19 Preview: Cubs vs. Brewers

Lucroy
Jonathan Lucroy has emerged as an NL MVP candidate. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

The Brewers’ hot start to the season may have come as a surprise, but it’s their continued excellence that’s really catching people’s attention. Milwaukee is led by its very impressive offense, which is making the Upper Midwest look a lot like the Mile High City. While the starting staff doesn’t boast a true ace, all five arms are quality rotation pieces. The bullpen came into the season as a major question mark, but it has managed to be strong thus far—though that isn’t a complete surprise considering how variable relief arms can be from year to year. The major issue for the pitching staff is the lack of depth in the minor league system. This kept the Brewers relatively quiet in the trade market, and it also likely means they won’t be able to inject much youth into their playoff push.

PITCHING
(4.0 RA/G, 9TH IN NL)

Wednesday starter Kyle Lohse has continued his late-career renaissance, as he looks to compile his fourth-consecutive sub-3.50 ERA season. As the de facto staff ace, he has delivered his usual steady performance. Tuesday’s starter Wily Peralta has also emerged as a strong mid-rotation arm. Monday night’s starter Yovani Gallardo has not have lived up to the lofty, early-career hype, but continues to produce solid starts. The bullpen has been anchored by resurgent closer Francisco Rodriguez and a breakout performance from fireballing setup man Will Smith. The biggest issue in the ’pen may be what happens if the wheels fall off for Rodriguez down the stretch.

HITTING
(4.3 RS/G, 2ND IN NL)

The Brewers trail only the Coors Field-aided Rockies when it comes to scoring runs. The offense is led by three MVP-caliber players in Ryan Braun (who isn’t firing on all cylinders, but has still been strong), Carlos Gomez (who announced his presence with an elite 2013 season on both sides of the ball) and breakthrough performer Jonathan Lucroy. The backstop gets plenty of accolades for his abilities behind the plate, but his above-.860 OPS is also impressive, along with his 18 homers and 82 driven in. His 5.0 wins above replacement total is the fourth-highest among NL hitters. That trio has overshadowed another strong season from Aramis Ramirez and a solid year from Scooter Gennett. Add the power of Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds, and this is truly one of the more impressive offensive units in baseball.

Home Series No. 15 Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals

MattAdams

Matt Adams has been the lone consistent bat for St. Louis this season. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

St. Louis got off to a slow start this season, but as every Cubs fan knows, you can’t count out the Cards just because of a few rough weeks. The Cubs’ closest NL Central foe put a .500 April behind them thanks to some dominant starting pitching and a resurgent offense that is climbing the ranks after an uncharacteristically sluggish start. First baseman Matt Adams has poured it on, and Jhonny Peralta has added some much-needed pop to a relatively low-power offense. The team suffered a major blow when cornerstone catcher Yadier Molina was put on the DL, potentially for the remainder of the season, after thumb surgery. Third-year manager Mike Matheny often gets criticized for his odd decisions, particularly his bullpen usage. But despite his alleged missteps, the Cardinals never seem to miss a beat, proving once again to be one of the stronger clubs in the game.

PITCHING
(3.6 RA/G, 4TH IN NL)

Outside of a pair of rough starts against the Cubs, Adam Wainwright has been downright unhittable this season. The Cardinals ace and projected Sunday starter has been as impressive as any arm in baseball and anchors a very strong rotation. Friday’s starter Joe Kelly has been tough in limited action, but he’s dealt with hamstring issues. Lance Lynn has been solid as well. Though inconsistent, Shelby Miller, who will start Saturday, has displayed flashes of the talent that made him one of the game’s top prospects. Michael Wacha was continuing to build upon his late-season breakout in 2013, but a stress reaction in his shoulder will keep him sidelined until at least September. The Cardinals do run into some issues in the bullpen, especially in the base on balls department. Trevor Rosenthal is racking up saves, but his walk rate is approaching uncomfortable levels for a closer. However, right-hander Pat Neshek has been one of the better stories of 2014, posting a 0.68 ERA over 40 innings and a 9.0 K/9 ratio in his first All-Star season. If Jason Motte can return to his 2012 form and fellow fireballer Carlos Martinez can lower his walk total, St. Louis has the arms to end games quickly.

HITTING
(3.7 RS/G, 14TH IN NL)

With Molina potentially out for the year, the offense lacks the consistent bat that has driven the Cards for years. Adams is doing what he can offensively, and the always-producing and under-the-radar Matt Holliday has also bounced back from a slow start and is providing some power. But his season totals are hardly what’s to be expected from the six-time All Star. Peralta leads the team with 14 home runs, but is hitting just .256 (only he and Adams have double-digit home run totals). Prospect Oscar Taveras and offseason acquisition Peter Bourjos haven’t lived up to their hype this season, while second baseman Kolten Wong has also struggled to find his footing in the major leagues. It wouldn’t be a shock to see St. Louis add a much-needed bat before the trade deadline to continue their playoff push.

Home Series 14 Preview: Cubs vs. Braves

Freeman

In his last 25 games, 2014 All-Star Freddie Freeman has hit .370/.434/.570. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty)

At the season’s outset, it appeared offense would be the Braves’ strength, as their lineup was littered with power bats, but they had numerous question marks in the rotation. As usual in baseball, it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected. The Braves pull into Wrigley Field tied with the Nationals for first place in the NL East chiefly on the backs of that suspect rotation, much of which was thrown together late in the offseason after the team lost two big arms to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. But with some key players struggling, the offense has taken a step back from 2013, when it ranked fourth in the NL in runs per game. One veteran has already been displaced from his starting position.

PITCHING
(3.6 RA/G, 4th IN NL)

The Braves lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery before the season even began, but that hasn’t stopped the staff from being one of the best in the game. Aaron Harang has probably pitched above his head early in the year, but his performance has still been a revelation. Ervin Santana was another late-spring addition, and while he’s been inconsistent, he is still a reliable innings eater. The Cubs will see three young pitchers in this series in lefties Alex Wood and Mike Minor, as well as 2014 All-Star righty Julio Teheran. Friday’s starter, Wood, has shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation this year, but is back in a much more comfortable starting role, where he can use his full assortment of pitches and funky delivery to keep hitters off balance. The usually reliable lefty Minor has struggled since the end of last season and comes into Saturday’s start with a 2-5 record and 4.54 ERA. However, the biggest development this season has been Julio Teheran’s emergence as the staff’s ace. The 22-year-old currently sports an 8-6 record with a 2.57 ERA. The bullpen looks a bit different from previous years, but it’s still strong, with outstanding closer and NL saves leader Craig Kimbrel anchoring the back end.

HITTING
(3.7 RS/G, 14TH IN NL)

Dan Uggla has never been a batting average guy, but that was always offset by his tremendous power. However, after the second baseman slugged just .362 in 2013 and suffered a continued power outage in 2014, the Braves finally called up youngster Tommy La Stella to take over the keystone in late May. La Stella doesn’t have the power Uggla displayed in his prime, but he has a great approach and can flat out hit. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it isn’t just Uggla struggling at the plate. Chris Johnson has failed to repeat his BABIP-fueled 2013 line of .321/.358/.457; the Upton brothers continue to strike out at an alarming rate; and former top prospect Jason Heyward hasn’t shown the power many expected of him when he first came up. The Braves are also without slugging catcher Evan Gattis for the foreseeable future. This offense was designed to be heavy on power bats, but it’s struggling to hit home runs and hasn’t yet figured out how to play small ball. So far this year, the Braves attack relies heavily on All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman. When he’s hot, the offense will score some runs. If you can hold him down, it struggles.

Cubs Minor League Recap: 6/29/14

The Cubs farm system managed a clean sweep of its opponents Sunday, going a perfect 6-0. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s minor league action:

Iowa Cubs (43-38)
2nd Place (-0.5)

Iowa posted its seventh shutout of the season with a 2-0 victory at Colorado Springs.

  • LHP Tsuyoshi Wada continued his strong season, going 6.2 scoreless innings, striking out eight and walking just one to improve his record to 9-4.
  • 2B Arismendy Alcantara went 2-for-4 with a double (22) to extend his hitting streak to eight games. He’s batting .500 (17-for-34) with four doubles, a triple, two homers, eight RBI and nine runs scored during his streak.
  • SS Javier Baez (.239) went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double (14) and one RBI (46).
  • RHP Blake Parker (1.17) tossed 1.1 scoreless innings of relief to earn his 17th save of the season.

Tennessee Smokies (8-3)
1st Place (+1.0)

Tennessee scored four runs in the eighth inning to beat visiting Montgomery, 6-1.

  • RHP Dae-Eun Rhee struck out a season-high 10 hitters over seven innings, giving up one earned run and walking none.
  • CF Jae-Hoon Ha (.209) went 1-for-5 with a game-high three RBI (20).
  • DH Charlie Cutler (.329) and C Luis Flores (.333) each recorded three hits apiece.

Daytona Cubs (8-3)
T-1st Place (–)

After giving up three runs in the top of the 11th, Daytona came back and scored four in the bottom of the frame for a comeback, 9-8 win over Lakeland.

  • DH Dan Vogelbach (.279) went 2-for-5 with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning.
  • LF Bijan Rademacher (.288) went 1-for-5 with a team-high three RBI (27).
  • SS Marco Hernandez (.285) and CF Albert Almora (.259) each had two hits and two RBI.
  • RHP Yao-Lin Wang (1-5, 6.26) earned the win despite allowing three runs on two hits in the 11th.

Kane County Cougars (8-2)
1st Place (+1.0)

Kane County won its fourth-straight game, beating host Beloit, 9-7.

  • C Cael Brockmeyer (.311) hit a two-run triple in the ninth to complete a cycle and break a 7-7 tie. He finished 4-for-5 with three runs scored, a two run homer and four RBI (18).
  • CF Jacob Hannemann (.262) went 2-for-5 with three RBI (34) and a fourth-inning, solo home run.
  • RF Yasiel Balaguert (.245) and LF Trey Martin (.237) each recorded two hits apiece.
  • RHP Corbin Hoffner (2-1, 4.05) picked up the win, while RHP Tyler Bremer (2.57) earned his 10th save.

Boise Hawks (7-10)
4th Place (-4.0)

Boise used a five-run second inning to roll past host Tri-City, 6-2.

  • RHP Trevor Graham picked up the win, giving up no earned runs over six innings and striking out four.
  • Jeffrey Baez (.185) went 1-for-5 with a second-inning two-run homer.
  • 1B Dan Canela (.304) recorded a game-high four hits, going 4-for-5 with a run scored and two doubles (4).
  • LHP Sam Wilson (0.00) tossed two scoreless innings of relief to earn his first save of the year.

Mesa Cubs (5-3)
1st Place (+1.0)

Mesa scored a run in the bottom of the ninth inning on a Bryant Flete sacrifice fly for a 5-4 walk-off win over the AZL Giants.

  • RF Jorge Soler (.583) went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
  • DH Kevonte Mitchell (.750) went 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
  • RHP Jeferson Mejia (2-0, 0.00) allowed two unearned runs in four innings of relief to earn the win.

Hot Off the Press: July VL featuring the best player from every decade at Wrigley Field

VL1407_Cover_newstand

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed this season at Wrigley Field so much. I have been looking forward to Wrigley’s 100th birthday for a few years now because I knew it would give Vine Line a chance to really delve into the organization’s history.

We not only produce the magazine, but we also create the scorecards sold at the Friendly Confines during every home series. To tie in with the Cubs’ 10 Decades, 10 Homestands promotion, we’ve been populating the covers with photos specific to the years being celebrated—which means we’ve spent countless hours searching the team’s photo archives for just the right shots.

When the Yankees were in town during the 1930s homestand, we found a picture from the 1932 World Series between the North Siders and the Bronx Bombers. When the Cubs were honoring the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940s series, we found a photo of the league’s tryouts, which were held at Wrigley Field in 1943.

In the interest of full disclosure, my home is littered with black-and-white photographs of everything from the Chicago Theater to my relatives during WWII to the Cubs at Spring Training on Catalina Island. I love this stuff, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a few evenings looking through the photo archives just for fun.

In other words, this is probably something I shouldn’t get paid to do (though I probably don’t need to spread that news around).

Some of the things that caught my eye when we were planning our 2014 content for the magazine last year were the memorable program and scorecard covers the team used from the 1930s through the 1960s. We liked them so much, we decided to dedicate the valuable back page of the magazine (The Score) to featuring some of the best of the best this season.

When we wanted to learn more about the scorecards, we went to that amazing wellspring of arcane Cubs information from every era, team historian Ed Hartig, who has been an invaluable resource for all the historical content we’ve published this year. It turns out, for decades, most of the scorecard designs were the brainchild of one man, Otis Shepard, former art director for the William Wrigley Jr. Co. and longtime member of the Cubs board of directors. For our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we look into the life and career of Shepard and how he came to design some of the Cubs’ most iconic images.

It’s also the July issue, which means it’s almost time for the Midsummer Classic. For our annual All-Star issue, we set out to find the most valuable Cubs player in each of Wrigley Field’s 10 decades. To do this, we used the stats website Fangraphs to compile the highest Wins Above Replacement totals for each decade. WAR essentially takes all of a player’s offensive and defensive efforts and outputs them into a single number designed to measure how many wins he provides over an average replacement player. There are definitely some names you would expect (I don’t think we could have a list like this without Mr. Cub), but there are also a few surprises (Rick Reuschel, anyone?).

Finally, Vine Line had a dream opportunity in May when the Yankees came to town. We worked with Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III to bring together two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen: Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. The legendary players sat down for a tête-à-tête that is every baseball fan’s dream come true.

Of course, we’re good for more than just history lessons. Follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline for the best of the Cubs past, present and future.

And let’s keep that whole “shouldn’t get paid” thing between us.

—Gary Cohen

Home Series 13 Preview: Cubs vs. Nationals

Nationals

Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rondon (left to right) have all been big contributors this season for the Nationals. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Nearly everyone picked the Nationals to run away with the NL East in 2014, but it has been a tightly bunched division in the early going, with the Nats just a game up on Atlanta as Thursday’s play began. Washington’s offense has been solid, and their pitching is about as good as it gets in the National League. Unfortunately, one of the bigger stories for the team thus far has been new manager Matt Williams calling out Bryce Harper for his apparent lack of hustle on an early-season ground out. Harper, who is known for his all-out, but often reckless effort, took the criticism in stride. Shortly thereafter, he hurt his thumb stretching a double into a triple, and he has missed a large portion of the season. He is due to return soon, though he’ll still miss the Cubs series.

PITCHING
(2nd in NL, 3.5 RA/G)

The Nats have the makings of a dominating rotation, but the arms didn’t quite perform to expectations in the early going. Former No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg is getting plenty of strikeouts and isn’t walking many, but he’s been very unlucky, with a ridiculous .356 BABIP resulting in a 3.70 ERA. University of Illinois product and Friday’s starter Tanner Roark is having a solid season (7-4, 2.79 ERA), while Saturday’s Game 1 starter Gio Gonzalez hasn’t yet lived up to his career numbers. Offseason acquisition and Thursday’s starter Doug Fister has been the addition everyone expected after coming back from injury in early May. Since his return, he has posted a 6-2 record with a 2.65 ERA. The bullpen is led by closer Rafael Soriano, who has converted 18 of 20 saves this season. Blake Treinen will start Game 2 of the doubleheader Saturday night.

HITTING
(8th IN NL, 4.0 RS/G)

Harper’s loss was costly, especially considering no one has really stepped up in his absence. Veterans Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth have been strong, while Denard Span is bouncing back nicely after a rough 2013 season. His return has allowed the Nats to keep the offense clicking, even after losing Ryan Zimmerman for several weeks to a thumb injury. Danny Espinosa has stepped into a full-time role at second base, and the hot-hitting Anthony Rendon has moved back to his college position at third. The now healthy Zimmerman has looked solid since his move to the outfield, but it will be interesting to see what the Nats do with him once Harper comes off the DL.

Home Series 11 Preview: Cubs vs. Pirates

McCutchen_Polanco

Outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco have made an impact for Pitssburgh. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

After ending 20 years of below-.500 futility and making a playoff appearance in 2013, it appeared the Pirates were a team on the rise. A poor April put the Bucs in a bit of a hole, one they’ve slowly tried to dig out of. This year, pitching has been subpar while the bats have only recently started to wake up. It’s too early to draw conclusions as there’s plenty of baseball still to be played, but the loss of A.J. Burnett from the rotation and some rough starts from key offensive contributors have led to serious struggles. Still, don’t count Pittsburgh out yet, as it does have some talented youngsters and an exciting roster.

PITCHING
(12TH IN NL, 4.3 RA/G)

The Pirates’ top two starters, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, started off relatively strong, but oblique and shoulder fatigue issues, respectively, currently leave both on the DL. Cole has a below-average strikeout rate, but the former top draft pick is just scratching the surface of his immense talent. Their absence puts the burden squarely on the shoulders of veteran and Friday’s starter Charlie Morton as well as young right-handers Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton. In 14 starts this season, Morton’s had a fine season, posting a 3.09 ERA in 87.1 innings. Saturday’s starter Worley has only pitched seven major league innings this year, but has a 1.20 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs, though Sunday’s starter Cumpton has struggled in 2014. The bullpen continues to be a strength, even with closer Jason Grilli experiencing some bumps.

HITTING
(6TH IN NL, 4.1 RS/G)

Early on, defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen has continued to look every bit the franchise-making superstar—but he was the only one providing any offense. Starling Marte regressed from his great 2013 season, and while Pedro Alvarez is again hitting for power, his low batting average and OBP drive down his value. Neil Walker was having a fine season until he had to undergo an appendectomy. There’s no timetable on his return. The Pirates have already made some significant moves to help kick-start the struggling bats, acquiring first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets and bringing up top prospect Gregory Polanco, who’s had success at the dish in a very small sample size. The hope is that Marte turns things around, Alvarez starts making more contact, and Polanco can make a big impact on the major league front.

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