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Cubs Minor League Recap: 7/30/14

Iowa claimed a doubleheader sweep, and Boise shut out Vancouver Wednesday. However, Tennessee, Daytona, Kane County and Mesa all lost their matchups. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s minor league action.

Iowa Cubs (59-54)
1st Place (+0.5)

GAME 1: Iowa took the first game of the doubleheader at New Orleans, backing a seven-inning, complete-game shutout from LHP Eric Jokisch to win 9-0.

  • Jokisch recorded his 12th quality start of the season and his second career shutout.
  • 1B Mike Olt (.345) recorded his third-straight two-hit game, ripping his fourth double and knocking in his fourth run.
  • 2B Javier Baez (.254) launched a three-run homer in the fourth for his team-leading 20th blast of the year.
  • RF Jorge Soler (.316) belted a two-run shot to knock in his third and fourth runs since joining Iowa.

GAME 2: Iowa completed the doubleheader sweep with a 2-1 win at New Orleans, despite being outhit, 6-5.

  • RHP Yoanner Negrin fanned five over five innings, giving up one earned run.
  • 3B Kris Bryant (.312) singled in both games of the doubleheader, swiping his fifth bag in Game 2.
  • RF Jorge Soler (.316) added a double (2) and a walk in three plate appearances. He has hit safely in five of his six starts for the I-Cubs (.353/6-for-17).
  • RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (1.80) continued his rehab assignment and earned a hold with a scoreless sixth.
  • RHP Armando Rivero (1.02) recorded his first save, finishing the seventh.

Tennessee Smokies (20-20)
2nd Place (-1.5)

Tennessee scored first, but could not hold the lead at Birmingham, as the Barons prevailed, 7-3.

  • CF Albert Almora (.226) launched his first home run in seven games with the Smokies, and his eighth on the year, as part of a two-hit effort. His 2-for-4 line gives him six hits in his last three games.
  • DH Charles Cutler (.319) hit a two-run homer in the ninth. All five of his homers have come with runners on base.
  • 2B Stephen Bruno (.281) finished 2-for-4 with his team-leading 23rd double.
  • 1B Lars Anderson (.409) and SS Addison Russell (.313) each singled twice. Anderson is 9-for-22 with seven walks in seven games with Tennessee, good for a .533 OBP.

Daytona Cubs (25-13)
1st Place (+4.5)

Daytona pitching allowed five runs in the eighth inning to fall to visiting Bradenton, 9-7.

  • CF Jacob Hannemann (.370) hit his first home run in seven games with Daytona, and his seventh on the year. He finished 3-for-5 with two runs and his third RBI.
  • SS Marco Hernandez (.298) followed Hannemann with a 3-for-4 game, scoring twice, knocking in one (44) and drawing a walk.
  • RF Billy McKinney (.301) knocked in two runs. He now has 22 RBI in just 24 games with Daytona, and 55 on the year between Stockton and the Cubs.
  • RHP Michael Jensen (3.06) recorded his second hold, allowing three runs while retiring just one Marauder to begin the eighth.
  • RHP Zack Godley (3-2, 4.40) suffered the blown save (2) and his second loss, allowing two runs in 1.2 innings.

Kane County Cougars (22-16)
T-1st Place (–)

Kane County’s losing streak grew to a season-long five games as they were shut out in Wisconsin, 2-0.

  • RHP Jen-Ho Tseng gave up one earned run over seven innings, striking out three and walking none. He’s allowed more than two runs just three times in 15 games (14 starts).
  • 2B Chesny Young (.333) recorded the Cougars’ lone multihit effort, singling twice. He has six hits in five games since being promoted to Kane County.
  • RF Jeffrey Baez (.100) doubled for his first extra-base hit in 10 games as a Cougar.

Boise Hawks (4-5)
T-3rd Place (-3.0)

Boise came back from a 7-0 deficit to beat Vancouver at home, 8-7, on a walk-off error from Canadians 2B Tim Locastro.

  • 3B Jesse Hodges (.260) finished 3-for-5 with a double (5) and scored the game-winning run on Locastro’s error. Hodges has recorded four three-hit games this month.
  • C Mark Malave (.284, 3 2B), SS Bryant Flete (.296, 1 2B) and RF Charcer Burks (.367, 3 2B) all doubled in the game.
  • Boise was 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position, a .353 mark.
  • RHP Trey Lang (1-0, 1.59) tossed two perfect innings of relief and struck out five to earn his first career win.

Mesa Cubs (1-3)
T-3rd Place (-3.0)

After falling to the AZL Angels at home on Tuesday, Mesa dropped an away contest at the Angels, 5-4.

  • DH Alberto Mineo (.287) and 2B Andrew Ely (.366) both recorded triples. Mineo knocked in two (17), finishing 2-for-4.
  • Mesa stole four bases—one each from CF Kevonte Mitchell (.306, 7 SB) and 3B Varonex Cuevas (.323, 1 SB), and two from SS Gleyber Torres (.280, 5 SB).

Cubs Minor League Recap: 7/7/14

Daytona swept a doubleheader, but Iowa, Tennessee and Mesa were all dealt losses Monday. Kane County and Boise each had the day off. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s minor league action:

Iowa Cubs (48-42)
1st Place (+1.5)

Iowa lost for the fourth time in its last five games, falling at Omaha, 7-3.

  • RHP Dan Straily gave up four runs, none earned, over five innings, striking out three in his Cubs debut.
  • SS Javier Baez (.241) homered for the second-straight game, going 1-for-4 with a third-inning, three-run shot.
  • 3B Kris Bryant (.356) went 1-for-3 with a walk.
  • RHP Marcos Mateo (5.21) tossed 1.1 scoreless innings of relief.

Tennessee Smokies (11-8)
2nd Place (-0.5)

Tennessee also lost for the fourth time in their last five games, falling at Birmingham, 7-1.

  • RF Jorge Soler (.394) homered for the second-straight game, going 3-for-4 with a ninth-inning, solo blast.
  • DH Charles Cutler (.337) and C Luis Flores (.281) had two hits apiece.
  • LHP Hunter Cervenka (3.06) worked a scoreless seventh inning in the setback.

Daytona Cubs (11-5)
1st Place (-0.5)

GM 1: Daytona pushed across a run in the eighth inning for a 4-3 win at Lakeland.

  • RHP Tayler Scott went five innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits.
  • CF Albert Almora (.271) went 1-for-4 with a first-inning, solo home run.
  • 1B Rock Shoulders (.207) went 1-for-3 with a third-inning, solo blast.
  • LHP Austin Kirk (1-0, 5.40) earned the win, while RHP Stephen Perakslis (5.36) picked up his second save.

GM 2: Daytona completed the doubleheader sweep with a 6-1 victory over Lakeland.

  • CF Albert Almora (.275) homered for the second-straight game, going 2-for-3 with a first-inning, two-run shot.
  • DH Bijan Rademacher (.284) went 1-for-3 with a first-inning, solo homer.
  • RHP Justin Amlung (2-2, 5.00) allowed a run in four innings of relief to earn his second win of the year.

Mesa Cubs (8-5)
1st Place (+0.5)

The Mesa Cubs committed five errors in an 11-2 loss at the AZL Indians. Mesa has committed 12 errors in its last two games.

  • C Alberto Mineo (.351) went 1-for-4 with a run scored, a double (4) and one RBI (7).
  • RHP Victor Salazar (0.00) struck out two hitters in 1.2 scoreless innings of relief.

Caribbean Leagues recap: 12/19/13

Cubs prospect Walter Ibarra had a big day for Mazatlan of the Mexican league, and Luis Valbuena continued his tear in Venezuela. Here are some other notes from Thursday’s action around the Caribbean leagues.

Dominican Republic

Alberto Cabrera, RHP – Cabrera pitched a scoreless inning, giving up no hits and walking none for Este in the win.

Mexico

Walter Ibarra, SS – Ibarra had a pair of hits, drove in a run and scored another for Mazatlan.

Puerto Rico

Jonathan Mota, 3B – Mota finished 1-for-4 with an RBI double in the Ponce loss.

Rubi Silva, CF – Silva had a single and a run scored for Ponce.

Venezuela

Luis Valbuena, 2B – Valbuena reached base three times, going 1-for-2 with a single and two walks for Lara.

Minor League recap: 7/1/13

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Double-A outfielder Matt Szczur extended his hitting streak to eight games on Monday. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs minor league affiliates went 3-2 on Monday, with Iowa, Boise and Mesa all picking up wins. Daytona’s scheduled doubleheader with Clearwater was postponed due to rain. The games have been rescheduled as parts of doubleheaders for Tuesday, August 13, and Thursday, August 15. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.

Iowa Cubs (43-42)

Iowa used a four-run, eighth-inning rally to beat visiting Memphis 4-2.

  • 1B Brad Nelson (.265) went 1-for-3 with a double (14) and two RBI (48).
  • LF Anthony Giansanti (.500) was 1-for-2 with a run scored, a double (1) and two RBI (2) in his Iowa debut.
  • RHP Eduardo Sanchez (1-1, 4.50) tossed a scoreless eighth inning to earn his first win of the season. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances (10.1 IP).
  • RHP Brian Schlitter (1.65) converted his eighth save of the season with a scoreless ninth. He’s holding left-handed hitters to a .192 batting average (5-for-26).

Tennessee Smokies (6-5)

Montgomery scored four runs in the sixth inning to race past the Smokies 7-2.

  • CF Matt Szczur (.300) extended his hitting streak to eight games, going 2-for-5 with a double (18) and one RBI (37). He’s hitting .395 (15-for-38) with four doubles, six runs scored and eight RBI during the streak.
  • C Chad Noble (.281) went 2-for-4 with a run scored. He’s gone 12-for-40 (.300) against right-handed pitchers.
  • DH Arismendy Alcantara (.277) was 1-for-3 with a walk and a double (20). His 138 total bases are a team-high.

Kane County Cougars (2-9)

Wisconsin rallied with three runs over the final two innings to beat visiting Kane County 4-3.

  • CF Albert Almora (.346) recorded his 13th multihit game, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and a double (11).
  • SS Marco Hernandez (.258) was 2-for-4 with a run scored and one RBI (23).
  • LF Oliver Zapata (.274) went 1-for-3 with a triple (6) and two RBI (34). He has recorded at least one RBI in three straight games (six total).
  • RF Kelvin Encarnacion (.462) extended his hitting streak to three games, going 1-for-4 with a triple (1).

Boise Hawks (10-8)

Boise won its fifth straight game with a 3-2 victory over host Salem-Keizer.

  • CF Jacob Hannemann (.283) recorded his third straight multihit game, going 2-for-5 with one RBI (3). His two-out RBI single in the ninth inning plated the winning run for Boise.
  • 1B Jacob Rogers (.250) went 1-for-4 with a double (1) and two RBI (7). He has driven in a run in three of his last four games (five total).
  • 2B Daniel Lockhart (.286) registered a season-high three hits, going 3-for-4 with a run scored.
  • RHP Ethan Elias (1-0, 3.12) allowed one run on two hits in 2.0 innings of relief to pick up his first win.
  • LHP Matt Iannazzo (3.00) worked a scoreless ninth inning to record his second save in as many nights.
  • RF Yasiel Balaguert (0-for-2, R, BB) was honored as the Northwest League Player of the Week for games played between June 24-30. He batted .348 (8-for-23) with three home runs and nine RBI. All three of his home runs either broke a tie or gave Boise the lead. His 22 RBI lead all short-season leagues.

Mesa Cubs (5-5)

Mesa won its third straight game, defeating the visiting AZL Dodgers 10-2.

  • 2B Francisco Sanchez (.273) extended his hitting streak to five games, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored, a triple (1) and a season-high four RBI (8).
  • 1B Kelvin Freeman (.077) was 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBI (2).
  • DH Zak Blair (.407) went 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored. He has hit safely in seven of his first eight games.
  • LHP Anthony Prieto (1-1, 7.11) struck out three while scattering two hits in 3.0 scoreless innings of relief to pick up his first win.

Minor League recap: 6/30/13

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Iowa reliever Michael Bowden has been solid for the I-Cubs. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Kane County, Boise and Mesa all picked up victories Sunday, but Iowa’s bats went quiet in a loss and Tennessee fell in extras. Daytona’s game was rained out and will be made up today as part of a doubleheader. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.

Iowa Cubs (42-42)

After recording 43 hits in the first three games of the series, Iowa managed just five singles in a 3-0 loss at Omaha.

  • DH Ty Wright (.241) extended his hitting streak to three games, going 1-for-3 with a walk.
  • 1B Brad Nelson (.264) went 1-for-3 with a walk. He has drawn a free pass in three of his last four games.
  • RHP Marcus Hatley (5.52) and RHP Michael Bowden (3.07) combined for two scoreless innings of relief. Bowden has not allowed a run in his last six appearances (8.0 IP).

Tennessee Smokies (6-4)

Tennessee had its four-game winning streak snapped in a 4-3, 10-inning loss at Montgomery.

  • SS Arismendy Alcantara (.277) went 1-for-4 with a walk, a home run and one RBI (36).
  • LF John Andreoli (.556) recorded his second straight multihit game, going 2-for-4 with two doubles (3).
  • CF Matt Szczur (.298) extended his hitting streak to seven games, going 1-for-5 with a triple (3) and a run scored. He’s hitting .394 (13-for-33) with three doubles, six runs scored and seven RBI during the streak.
  • RHP Frank Batista (2.43) tossed a scoreless inning of relief despite walking three batters. He’s holding right-handed hitters to a .225 batting average (18-for-80).

Kane County Cougars (2-8)

Kane County used a 13-hit attack to defeat host Wisconsin 4-3.

  • LF Reggie Golden (.304) hit an eighth-inning solo homer to break a 3-3 tie. He’s hit safely in seven of his last eight games.
  • RF Kelvin Encarnacion (.556) recorded his second-straight multihit game, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored, a double (1) and one stolen base (1).
  • SS Willson Contreras (.247) and CF Oliver Zapata (.316) recorded two hits apiece.
  • RHP Lendy Castillo (1-5, 6.67) tossed 1.2 scoreless innings of relief, earning his first win of the season.
  • RHP Michael Hamann (0.00) converted his first save, recording the final four outs.

Boise Hawks (9-8)

Boise won its fourth straight game with a 6-5 victory over visiting Eugene.

  • RF Yasiel Balaguert (.271) homered for the second-straight game, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored, the home run and a team-high three RBI (22). He’s gone deep in three of his last four games while driving in a run in six of eight (10 total RBI).
  • 3B Jordan Hankins (.077) reached base three times, going 1-for-2 with two walks and two RBI (2).
  • LF Jose Dore (.269) was 2-for-4 with a run scored and a double (4).
  • LHP Andrew McKirahan (1-0, 0.00) allowed one hit in two scoreless innings of relief, earning his first win.
  • LHP Matt Iannazzo (3.38) recorded the final out, converting his first save.

Mesa Cubs (4-5)

Mesa won its second straight game, defeating the host AZL Indians 6-4.

  • DH Kevin Brown (.238) went 3-for-4 with an RBI (1) and a stolen base (3).
  • 2B Zak Blair (.435) went 2-for-5 with two runs scored, a double (3) and one RBI (6). He’s hit safely in six of his first seven games.
  • RHP Jorge Diaz (1-0, 9.53) recorded the victory despite allowing two runs on two hits in 1.2 innings.
  • LHP David Villegas (2.45) converted his first save, tossing two scoreless innings of relief.

Minor League recap: 6/27/13

SAPPELT-D-022613-SG-06

Dave Sappelt had a solid day at the dish for Iowa. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Iowa, Kane County and Boise all won while Daytona split its doubleheader and Mesa’s bats were kept quiet in a loss Thursday. Tennessee’s matchup was postponed due to unplayable field conditions. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.

Iowa Cubs (40-41)

Iowa collected 13 hits in a 4-2 win over host Omaha.

  • RF Dave Sappelt (.260) went 3-for-5 with a double (10) and an RBI (31).
  • SS Donnie Murphy (.271) went 2-for-5 with a double (10), a homer, two runs scored and two RBI (30).
  • CF Jae-Hoon Ha (2-for-5), C J.C. Boscan (2-for-3, BB, 2B) and 1B Tim Torres (2-for-3, BB) added two hits apiece.
  • RHP Brian Schlitter (1.98) converted his sixth save, fanning one in a perfect ninth frame.

Daytona Cubs (6-2)

Game 1: Daytona won its fifth straight, defeating host Tampa 6-1 in the opener of a doubleheader.

  • CF Zeke DeVoss (.239) reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk, a double (7) and two runs scored.
  • 3B Wes Darvill (.267) went 2-for-3 with a double (5), a triple (2) and a team-high three RBI (9).
  • RHP Ben Wells fanned seven and surrendered just one hit over six innings to get the win.

Game 2: Daytona dropped the nightcap, falling at Tampa 3-2 in eight innings.

  • RF John Andreoli (.318) went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base (23).
  • LF Zeke DeVoss (.245) was 2-for-3 with an RBI (31).
  • OF Jorge Soler was selected to play for the World Team in the 15th annual SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game July 14 at Citi Field in New York as part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Weekend. Soler will miss the game due to a shin injury. SS Javier Baez is one of five finalists eligible for the two remaining spots.

Kane County (1-6)

Kane County overcame a 7-1, fifth-inning deficit, rallying past visiting Beloit 8-7 in 10 innings.

  • CF Albert Almora (.366) went 3-for-5 with a double (11), two runs scored and two RBI (16).
  • SS Marco Hernandez (.252) went 3-for-5 with a double (10).
  • LF Oliver Zapata (.275) reached base four times, going 3-for-4 with a walk, a triple (5), three runs scored and a stolen base (9).
  • LHP Jeff Antigua (3-1, 2.45) earned the win in relief, surrendering only a hit and a walk while fanning three in three scoreless innings.

Boise Hawks (6-8)

  • CF Jacob Hannemann (.250) went 2-for-4 with a triple (1) and a run scored.
  • LF Shawon Dunston (.341) went 2-for-4 with an RBI (5) and a stolen base (2).
  • 1B Jacob Rogers (.261) was 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • DH Yasiel Balaguert (.239) reached base three times, going 1-for-2 with two walks, a homer, three runs scored and two RBI (17).
  • RHP Jasvir Rakkar (1-0, 3.00) earned the win in relief, giving up a hit and a walk while fanning two in two scoreless innings.
  • RHP Michael Hamann (0.00) converted his third save, allowing one hit in a scoreless ninth frame of relief.

Mesa Cubs (2-5)

  • CF Jeff Baez (.318) went 3-for-4 with a stolen base (5).
  • RF Rashad Crawford (.136) reached base twice, going 0-for-2 with two walks and two stolen bases (3).
  • LHP David Villegas (3.38) allowed one hit while fanning two in 2.0 scoreless innings of relief.

Series 12 Preview: Cubs at Nationals

Harper

Cubs pitchers will have to throw with caution when facing Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The reigning NL East champions haven’t gotten unleashed quite yet, but there’s little doubt their combination of pitching and hitting, veterans and youth will carry them deep into this season. The problem so far has been the offense, which ranks toward the bottom of the league in run production, mixed with a high strikeout totals and a lack of baserunners. But there’s talent oozing through the organization after about a decade of effective drafting. GM Mike Rizzo has supplemented the core of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg with some great trades for Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span and late-inning bullpen arms. No matter the Nationals’ offensive situation, the Cubs will have to bring their cleanest A-game to the nation’s capital to deal with the all-around threat.

3.6 runs scored/game, 14th in the NL
Other-worldly talent Harper has slugged 10 homers in 33 games and has already shown he’ll be able to make adjustments at the big league level. But beyond his 1.013 OPS (on-base plus slugging), no other Nationals position player is clearing .800 right now. The problems with their top hitters haven’t been uniform either. Some haven’t been able to hit for average or power (Adam LaRoche, Zimmerman) while others bring the stick but won’t take a walk (Desmond, Jayson Werth). All four have the potential to do damage in the middle of the order. Center fielder Span gives the team a second speedster alongside Desmond, and Span’s able to play the field and take a walk. Second baseman Danny Espinosa is a black hole at the plate, but he’s a pretty terrific middle infielder. In the end, the lineup will only be able to get away with its current low-strikeout, high-walk mix once it starts hitting the ball with more authority.

3.8 runs allowed/game, 4th in the NL
Strasburg gets the headlines, but the entire Nats rotation is solid. Despite a 1-4 record, the power right-hander has fanned 44 batters in 44.1 innings and owns a 3.45 ERA. At least the Cubs will miss Zimmermann, who has established himself as one of the game’s most effective young pitchers. He only strikes out six batters per nine innings, but his control is outstanding. Left-handers Gonzalez—a Cy Young finalist last year and owner of a devastating low-3/4 curve—and Ross Detwiler round out the trio of young starters the Cubs will see this series. The bullpen is deep—that much is certain. Whether it’s a collection of good relievers or a mix of good and great is up for debate. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez all have closed for the Nationals in the past. Soriano’s the one closing out games now, relying heavily on a low-90s fastball that has seen its velocity decline precipitously over the past couple of years. He pairs it with a slider that’s currently only being used when he’s ahead in the count. Meanwhile, Clippard brings an excellent right-handed change-up, Storen is a promising youngster with great stuff, and Rodriguez brings velocity but without any idea of where it’s going.

—Sean Ahmed

Cubs minor league recap: 5/7/13

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Dave Sappelt singled in his first game with Iowa Tuesday. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona all struggled to get the bats going Tuesday night, all resulting in losses while Kane County had the night off. Despite the defeats, here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:

Iowa Cubs (11-18)

Iowa mustered only four singles in a 5-0 setback at Colorado Springs in the first game of a four-game series.

  • RF Dave Sappelt (1-for-3) singled in his first game with Iowa.
  • 2B-LF Edwin Maysonet (.254) went 1-for-1, extending his hitting streak to four games (.500/5-for-10).
  • C Luis Flores (.200) singled, snapping a five-game hitless skid.
  • RHP Zach Putnam tossed 1.1 shutout innings of relief, allowing no hits and striking out one.

Tennessee Smokies (15-15)

Tennessee allowed back-to-back, six-run frames (third and fourth innings), falling 16-0 to Birmingham in a rain-shortened, five-inning game.

  • LF Ty Wright (.257) recorded a hit for the fourth time in five games, going 1-for-2 with a single.
  • DH Ronald Torreyes (.317) walked twice in two plate appearances. He has reached base in five-consecutive games.
  • C Rafael Lopez (.231) extended his hitting streak to five games with a fifth-inning single.
  • Tennessee has been shut out in three-consecutive games and five times in the last eight outings.

Daytona Cubs (16-15)

  • SS Javier Baez (.238) went 1-for-4 with a solo home run, his sixth of the season.
  • LF Taiwan Easterling (.224) recorded his first multi-RBI game since April 12, knocking in two runs as part of a 1-for-3 outing.
  • 3B Ben Carhart (.310) extended his hitting streak to a season-high 12 games (.422/19-for-45) with a fifth-inning single.
  • LHP Sheldon McDonald (IP) tossed his third-consecutive scoreless outing (4.0 IP).

Series 11 Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals

Carpenter

Matt Carpenter has been solid since splitting duties between his regular third base and the keystone. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Cardinals certainly had their share of early-season setbacks, but that only made it clearer the broad collection of talent GM John Mozeliak has assembled can carry the team through just about anything. Having to scratch veteran ace Chris Carpenter for the season made it easy to make room in the rotation for potential Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller, and losing shortstop Rafael Furcal opened up an opportunity for last year’s stretch-drive hero, Pete Kozma. The team is so strong and deep that outfielder Oscar Taveras, arguably the best hitting prospect in baseball, may spend the season in the minors waiting for an opportunity. And most pundits believe the Cards have the best farm system in baseball. In the after-Pujols era, this team isn’t just ready, it’s fully loaded to contend for years to come.

4.8 runs scored/game, 4th in the NL
The Cardinals have shifted a few players around to maximize the team’s offensive potential. They asked third baseman Matt Carpenter to split time between the hot corner and second to get his lefty power stroke into the lineup while also making room for first baseman Matt Adams, who could be off the DL by the time the Cards head to Wrigley Field. Carpenter, four-corners asset Allen Craig and utilityman Daniel Descalso give manager Mike Matheny more than enough moving parts to rotate around stars Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. This hitting talent has also made it much easier for the team to endure a slow start from third baseman David Freese. If there’s one weakness in the St. Louis attack, it’s that the loss of Furcal has almost eliminated the running game. As a result, the Cards have become very much a station-to-station, big-inning offense.

3.5 runs allowed/game, 2nd in the NL
Perhaps no rotation in the league has been as strong as the Cardinals’ quintet in the early going. Adam Wainwright put up a 2.03 ERA in six April starts, striking out 43 and walking just three on his way to a 4-2 record. Lefty Jaime Garcia would front many big league rotations, and Miller’s mid-90s, moving fastball made him the top pitching prospect in the league coming into the year. Add in Jake Westbrook’s league-leading 1.07 ERA and Lance Lynn’s power-curve assortment, and there’s no such thing as a day off for opposing lineups. The problem is the ’pen, where Mitchell Boggs struggled to fill in for injured closer Jason Motte and was recently demoted. If there’s another source of worry, it might be the team’s interior defense. Experimenting with Carpenter at the keystone is much like the risk the Cards ran when they converted outfielder Scott Schumaker to second base. The move has worked out so far, as Carpenter’s defensive stats indicate there’s not much of a dropoff, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in the long run.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 10 Preview: Cubs vs. Reds

Cingrani

Left-handed rookie Tony Cingrani has been a star in the Reds’ rotation. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Most expect the Reds to challenge the Cardinals for supremacy in the NL Central this season, but there are concerns about whether Cincinnati has enough depth to carry them through the inevitable injuries every team endures. Despite a remarkably healthy 2012—each member of Cincy’s front five made 30 or more starts—the injury issue came to the fore early in 2013. Cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick’s dislocated shoulder will keep him out until after the All-Star break, and ace Johnny Cueto went down on April 15 with a strained lat. As Cubs fans know from waiting out Matt Garza, lat injuries can take a while to heal. The bullpen has also been hit hard, as key set-up men Sean Marshall and Nick Masset have both spent time on the DL (Masset was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day on April 21). If this injury trend continues, it remains to be seen whether the Reds can sustain another playoff run in 2013. The Reds head into Wrigley one game over .500 (15-14), but just 2.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals.

4.4 Runs Scored/Game, 6th in the NL

Power has long been this lineup’s calling card, but the Reds’ team slugging was around league average in the first month. Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart are both off to slow starts, while Chris Heisey hasn’t performed well in place of Ludwick. Former MVP Joey Votto was initially on pace to draw more than 200 walks, but some scouts fret he could be getting too selective for his own good. On the positive side, Brandon Phillips got off to a hot start, and Todd Frazier’s power numbers indicate he’s recovered from last season’s September swoon. The injury to Ludwick, combined with questions about Shin-Soo Choo’s ability to play center field regularly—despite his impressive offensive output—have fed speculation the Reds might bring up speedster Billy Hamilton. After stealing 155 bases in the minors in 2012, Hamilton is expected to be the biggest stolen-base threat in baseball since Vince Coleman.

3.6 Runs Against/Game, 3rd in the NL

The major controversy this spring was whether Cincinnati would really move the Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman, and his triple-digit velocity into the rotation. After considerable debate, they decided to leave him at closer, which gives them a distinct in-game advantage compared to the other relief corps in the division. But that decision could also cost them in the long haul, especially with Cueto out for an indefinite amount of time. The good news is the other rotation regulars behind Cueto have all been strong. Sunday’s starter Mat Latos and Homer Bailey look like All-Stars early on while rookie and Saturday’s starter Tony Cingrani has picked up where Cueto left off. Mike Leake (Friday’s probable pitcher) continues to pitch well, and Bronson Arroyo’s nine flavors of junk consistently chew up innings while providing winnable ballgames. The Reds will need that kind of consistency as they wait for the lineup to start producing like it should. Manager Dusty Baker is not one to make a lot of in-game moves to the ’pen, so his club’s fortunes may rest on how far his rotation can take them.

—Christina Kahrl

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