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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

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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

Cubs minor league recap: 4/28/13

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Brent Lillibridge finished a triple shy of the cycle Sunday with the I-Cubs. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Iowa and Daytona both captured a win Sunday, while rain kept Tennessee and Kane County from taking the field. One of the Smokies’ doubleheader games scheduled for Sunday will now be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader Monday; the other game will not be rescheduled. The Cougars’ game, which marks their eighth postponement this season, will also be played as part of a doubleheader Monday. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:

Iowa Cubs (8-14)

Iowa collected 13 hits, including four home runs, beating host Omaha, 10-6.

  • CF Brian Bogusevic (.417) extended his hitting streak to nine games, going 3-for-4 with a walk, a home run and three RBI (8). He’s hitting .484 (15-for-31) during the streak.
  • DH Brett Jackson (.232) blasted his first home run of the season, a two-run shot in the second inning. He finished 1-for-5 with a walk, the home run and a season-high three RBI (7).
  • 1B Brent Lillibridge (.455) finished a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored, a double (2), a home run and one RBI (3).
  • 3B Ian Stewart (.094) went 0-for-2 with three walks, two runs scored and one RBI (4) in the 10th game of his rehabilitation assignment.
  • RF Ryan Sweeney (.369) belted his team-leading sixth homer, going 1-for-4 with a walk, the home run and two RBI (16).

Daytona Cubs (11-12)

Daytona hitters walked eight times and stole four bases in a 7-4 victory over visiting Palm Beach.

  • SS Javier Baez (.263) recorded his team-leading fifth longball of the season, going 2-for-4 with the home run and two RBI (15). He has hit safely in five of his last six contests.
  • 3B Ben Carhart (.289) recorded his third three-hit game of the campaign, going 3-for-4 with a season-high three RBI (11). The 2012 draftee is hitting .385 (10-for-26) with runners in scoring position.
  • 2B Tim Saunders (.216) registered his third multi-hit game of the year, going 2-for-5 with two runs scored, a RBI (5) and two stolen bases (7).
  • RHP P.J. Francescon earned his second win, recording his first quality start of the campaign. The righty has a 2.45 ERA (3 ER/11.0 IP) over his last two starts.

First Pitch/Seventh-Inning Stretch Lineup: 4/29-5/8

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Comedian Julia Sweeney sang the seventh-inning stretch during a game earlier this month. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs kick off a nine-game homestand Monday, as the Padres, Reds and Cardinals come to town. If you’re headed to Wrigley Field over the next week, here’s your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineup:

Monday – 4/29
First Pitch & Stretch: John Egan, Rich Rochelle & Chuck Wood from the 1963 Loyola Men’s Basketball championship team (celebrating their 50th anniversary)

Tuesday – 4/30
First Pitch & Stretch: Corey Wootton (Chicago Bears)

Wednesday – 5/1
First Pitch & Stretch: Jeff Mauro (“The Sandwich King”/ Chicago Food Network star)

Thursday – 5/2
First Pitch: Emmylou Harris (12-time Grammy winner)
Stretch: Steve Trout (Cubs alumni)

Friday – 5/3
First Pitch: Shea McClellin (Chicago Bears)
Stretch: TBD

Saturday – 5/4
First Pitch & Stretch: TBD

Sunday – 5/5
First Pitch & Stretch: Gary Sinise (Actor/Musician)

Monday – 5/6
First Pitch: Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky)
Stretch: TBD

Tuesday – 5/7
First Pitch & Stretch: Nick Cannon (America’s Got Talent)

Wednesday – 5/8 “Pink Out”
First Pitch: Breast cancer survivor
National Anthem: Sing to Live Chorus (40 members affected by breast cancer)
Stretch: Breast cancer survivors

Have a drink with David DeJesus and Anthony Rizzo

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

If you’re in the Phoenix area this week for Spring Training, join Cubs outfielder David DeJesus, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and other big league ballplayers for a drink—for a good cause, of course.

The David DeJesus Family Foundation will be hosting a Celebrity Bartending Night on Wednesday, March 20, at the American Junkie Bar in Scottsdale, Ariz., to benefit families in need. Featured celebrity bartenders include Darwin Barney, Anthony Rizzo, Travis Wood, Adam Eaton, Javy Guerra, David Hernandez, Casey Kelly, George Kontos and Wade Miley.

The event goes from 9-11 p.m., and general admission tickets are available for purchase at the door for $50 per person. VIP tickets are $150 and include a preparty cocktail hour from 8- 9 p.m. with food and a private mix-and-mingle as the players learn how to bartend.

“We are excited to raise funds to support our mission from this fun event,” said DeJesus. “My wife, Kim, and I started the David DeJesus Family Foundation and are excited to be continuing its growth here in Arizona.”

The event is being hosted in conjunction with Issues Concerning Athletes and MiCamp Merchant Services. American Junkie Bar is located at 4363 N. 75th St., in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The David DeJesus Family Foundation was created by Cubs outfielder David DeJesus and his wife, Kim, in order to help families in crisis in Chicago and in parts of the world where people lack basic human needs.  DDFF is committed to helping alleviate suffering for those that face devastation due to illness, poverty or disaster as well as those who seek a voice to be heard. In particular, DDFF has been actively involved in the fight against ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Cubs sign 21 pre-arbitration players

VITTERS J

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs agreed to terms with all 21 pre-arbitration eligible players currently on the organization’s 40-man roster Monday. Terms were not disclosed.

Right-handed pitchers Michael Bowden, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Trey McNutt, Hector Rondon, Arodys Vizcaino and Robert Whitenack; and lefties Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin and Travis Wood were all signed to new deals.

Catchers Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger; infielders Darwin Barney, Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo, Christian Villanueva, Josh Vitters and Logan Watkins; and outfielders Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur also earned updated contracts.

Cubs acquire two minor league RHPs for Campana

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Chicago Cubs today acquired minor league right-handed pitchers Erick Leal and Jesus Castillo from the Arizona Diamondbacks for popular outfielder Tony Campana.

“Both of them we like a lot, both are projectable,” said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer. “We did a lot of work with our scouts down in the D.R. and a had lot of contact with Arizona. But we feel really good about getting two projectable arms for Tony. Obviously, it’s difficult to lose Tony from the organization. [He’s] a great person, a fantastic base stealer and a guy we really enjoyed getting to know. But ultimately you can only protect 40 guys on the roster, and he got caught up in that roster crunch.”

Leal, 17, went 6-2 with a 2.44 ERA (19 ER/70.0 IP) in 14 appearances (12 starts) for the Dominican Summer League Diamondbacks last season. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder struck out 70 and walked only 11 batters in 70.0 innings—an average of 9.0 strikeouts and only 1.4 walks per nine innings. Leal also allowed only one home run in 70.0 innings pitched and posted a 0.99 WHIP. He is a native of Carabobo, Valencia, Venezuela.

Castillo, 17, went 2-4 with a 5.40 ERA (28 ER/46.2 IP) in 14 appearances (eight starts) for the DSL Diamondbacks last season. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Castillo struck out 41 and walked 17 in 46.2 innings pitched, while allowing only three home runs. He is a native of San Feliz, Tachira, Venezuela.

Hoyer said Leal is expected to pitch in the U.S. this year, but Castillo will likely stay and play in the Dominican Summer League for another year.

Campana, 26, batted .262 (83-for-317) with nine doubles, one home run, 54 stolen bases, a .306 on-base percentage and a .300 slugging percentage in 184 games with the Cubs covering the last two seasons. He was crowded out of the Cubs outfield this year following the acquisitions of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston.

‘You never want to lose players you think have value, and Tony certainly has value,” Hoyer said. “But as you get more and more good players on your 40-man roster, you’re going to have to make harder and harder decisions. And I hope we have a lot of hard decisions ahead because that means our roster is getting better.”

Cubs Convention LIVE: Stats Sunday with WGN

Last one of the 2013 Cubs Convention: Len Kasper, Jim Deshaies and Bob Vorwald of WGN talking about some more meaningful statistics that they’ve introduced to their broadcasts. Here we go!

10:32 Deshaies, the Cubs’ new TV color commentator, saw the transition to advanced stats when he was with Houston, as they overhauled their front office under GM Jeff Luhnow. He’s a believer in the kind of impact they can make on a team.

Kasper talks about how some statistics can be misleading, specifically citing Rob Deer who had great on-base percentages despite high strikeout totals and low batting averages. He compares him once again to Adam Dunn and says that, if Deer were to play today, he’d probably have been valued much more.

10:35 Vorwald brings up former Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who passed away yesterday. He was ahead of his time in many ways, preaching a philosophy of preserving outs and taking bases. Known to be more about three-run homers than small ball, Weaver understood how outs were a team’s most precious resource.

10:36 Vorwald introduces the so-called “baseball card stats”: home runs, runs batted in, batting average. They’re important to fans and not going anywhere, but Kasper emphasizes that RBIs are a function of opportunities. Deshaies says that he doesn’t want to diminish a guy who gets 100 RBIs—that probably means he had a good year regardless—but that it tends to be overvalued. “If you’re hitting in the middle of the order, you’re probably a pretty good guy to begin with. But you have to separate the good from the very good [by looking at some more meaningful numbers].”

(more…)

1000 Words: Matt Garza at the Cubs Convention

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Now Playing: Cubs, Kerry Wood break ground on new field

For years, Chicago Public League baseball teams haven’t had a true home-field advantage when the high school playoffs come around. Without a serviceable field to play on, city teams have been forced to trek out to the suburbs when the single-elimination tournament starts up each May. But that’s all about to change.

The Chicago Cubs Charities and the Wood Family Foundation broke ground on Kerry Wood Cubs Field Thursday, a high school baseball diamond located at Clark Park near Lane Tech High School about a mile west of Wrigley Field. The $5 million project should be completed in the first half of 2013. The stadium will seat 1,100 people and will have lights for potential night games.

Vine Line was there for the ceremony, where former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and Cubs co-owners Tom and Laura Ricketts spoke of the excitement surrounding this new venture.

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