Results tagged ‘ series preview ’

Series 8 Preview: Cubs at Marlins


Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton will bring defensive power to the field. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty)

On the heels of yet another teardown, the Marlins host the Cubs for a four-game set beginning Thursday night. Both teams are desperately looking to get on a roll and have a good opportunity to do this series.

In constructing their roster on the absolute slimmest of budgets, the Marlins have had to piece together a lineup of pre-arbitration youngsters and aging veterans on year-to-year contracts. The former includes catcher Rob Brantly (23) and second baseman Donovan Solano (25). Center fielder Justin Ruggiano, who broke out in 2012, falls into the pre-arb category as well, despite having just turned 31. On the other end are left fielder Juan Pierre (35), third baseman Placido Polanco (37) and first baseman Greg Dobbs (34). The entire collection ranks last in the NL in every slash stat (.221/.279/.296).

There is a definite superstar on this team, in hulking—and athletic—right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. His power and arm tools are at the top of the scale, and he’s convinced many doubters who feared he would strike out far too much to succeed in the big leagues. Since he debuted as a 20-year-old in 2010, he has hit for a .268 AVG/.349 OBP/.541 SLG and set career bests in each category (along with his 37 homers) despite the move to cavernous Marlins Park. He’s hitting .200 with no homers yet this season, but he’s still contributed by making several great plays with his glove and arm.

The Cubs will miss 20-year-old phenom Jose Fernandez, who was a surprise Opening Day call-up considering he hadn’t played above A ball yet. Thursday’s starter, Kevin Slowey, heavily relies on having pinpoint command over his four- and two-seam fastballs, but he can get hit hard and spent last season in Triple-A. Wade LeBlanc and Alex Sanabia are extreme fly-ball pitchers who will benefit from playing in the Marlins’ large yard. Meanwhile, you may find yourself craning your neck when watching the back end of the bullpen. Closer Steve Cishek winds it from the side but can still touch the mid-90s with his fastball. Meanwhile, 6-foot-11 setup man Jon Rauch forces batters to look upward. He throws from over top, and gives up a giant share of fly balls and homers with his low-90s fastball.


Thursday, April 25—RHP Edwin Jackson (0-3, 4.84) vs. RHP Kevin Slowey (0-2, 1.90)

Friday, April 26—RHP Scott Feldman (0-3, 4.50) vs. LHP Wade LeBlanc (0-3, 6.27)

Saturday, April 27—LHP Travis Wood (1-1, 2.08) vs. RHP Alex Sanabia (2-2, 5.09)

Sunday, April 28—RHP Carlos Villanueva (1-0, 1.53) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 3.81)


The Marlins’ Sunday starter has undergone a fascinating evolution over the last three years. Nolasco has gone from a fly-ball pitcher who struck out nearly a batter an inning to one who induces a good amount of grounders and K’s only about six per nine. The change can be attributed to a heavy move away from his four-seam fastball. In its place have come a good low-90s sinker and a splitter. The latter is only used against lefties, while he’ll lean on his slider versus righties. A big, slow curve rounds out the repertoire. He has very good control over it all, but the infield defense—which sorely misses the injured Hechavarria—will have to support him.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 7 Preview: Cubs at Reds


The Cubs will keep an eye on slugger Joey Votto. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The division front-runners didn’t rest on their laurels after a 2012 NL Central championship, addressing a perennial weakness at the leadoff spot. They’re the favorites again and currently sit in first place.

GM Walt Jocketty acquired left-handed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo in a three-team trade that saw the Reds send Drew Stubbs to the Indians and prospect Didi Gregorius to the Diamondbacks. Replacing Stubbs with Choo exchanged defense for offense, and the contrast has been sharp so far. While Choo has made a hash of center field—where he hadn’t played extensively since Single-A ball—he’s hit .382 AVG/.523 OBP/.632 SLG, outpacing perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto in all three categories. Even as those numbers come back to Earth, Choo will provide an above-average walk rate, speed and some power, making him the top-of-the-order weapon the Reds needed.

Votto is, of course, the team’s engine and one of the game’s best players. In five full seasons, he’s never once had a batting average below .297, and he averages 40 doubles and 30 homers every 162 games. But just as valuable is his .419 career on-base percentage, tops among active players. He’s also on a contract that will keep him in Cincinnati through at least 2023. Cubs pitchers will have a hard time getting Votto to fish outside the zone, though he’s done his biggest damage on pitches down lately.

Outside of Choo and second baseman Brandon Phillips, the entire starting lineup is homegrown. Fantastic shortstop Zack Cozart, sophomore third baseman Todd Frazier and promising backstop Devin Mesoraco all were selected in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft. Meanwhile, corner outfielders Jay Bruce and Chris Heisey were drafted in 2006 and 2005, respectively.

The Cubs will face a trio of talented starting pitchers age 25 and younger. Right-hander Mike Leake has struggled with consistency since his promising 2010-11 campaigns, but he has excellent command and can befuddle hitters despite lacking a fastball that gets much out of the 80s. Southpaw Tony Cingrani takes the hill in the middle game after an impressive big league debut. In striking out eight Marlins over five innings, Cingrani showed a deceptive delivery and consistent three-quarters arm slot that played up his low-90s fastball and great change-up combination. He struck out an astounding 34 percent of batters faced in the minors without leveling off in the upper minors. Finally, “veteran” righty Mat Latos closes out the series with some more heat. His 3.48 ERA last year virtually matched his 2011 mark despite moving from spacious PETCO Park to an environment that is much more conducive to offense.

The last thing the Cubs want to do is see triple-digit lefty Aroldis Chapman in the ninth—where it seems he’ll stay after consideration for the rotation—but there’s some softness before that point. Former Cub Sean Marshall is out with shoulder tendinitis and may not be ready to come off the DL when he’s eligible Tuesday. Jonathan Broxton should bring late-inning firepower, but he’s struggled mightily so far. Overall, it’s a bullpen the Cubs will want to get to by the middle innings.


Monday, April 22—LHP Travis Wood (1-1, 1.83) vs. RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 4.26)

Tuesday, April 23—RHP Carlos Villanueva (1-0, 1.29) vs. LHP Tony Cingrani (1-0, 1.80)

Wednesday, April 24—RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-3, 3.38) vs. RHP Mat Latos (0-0, 2.73)

—Sean Ahmed

Cubs play host to tough Rangers squad


The Cubs will face lefty Derek Holland Tuesday night. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

The following is from Vine Line‘s April Gameday Edition. Fans can purchase the full version of the official program and scorecard of the Chicago Cubs at various kiosks around Wrigley Field.

The previously high-flying Rangers come into 2013 trying to recover from the shock of blowing their AL West lead to the A’s in the season’s last week, and then losing the Wild Card play-in game to the upstart Orioles. That debacle triggered even more turbulence this offseason. Texas endured a winter of front office power struggles over former President Nolan Ryan’s role, saw star center fielder Josh Hamilton defect as a free agent—to the division rival Angels, no less—and traded away longtime fan favorite Michael Young to the Phillies.

The Rangers feel they’re strong enough to contend in 2013—and they still have one of the top prospects in the game in Jurickson Profar—but it’s easy to anticipate how a slow start could incite panic for a team that’s taken a tumble after winning back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011.

3.7 Runs Scored/Game — 21st in MLB

With Hamilton gone, the Rangers lost a premium bat from the left side. To replace him, they had to settle for two aging veterans, Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. But the 37-year-old Big Puma is coming off a season ruined by injury, while the 36-year-old Pierzynski is likely due to come down from a surprising 27-homer year with the White Sox. Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin joins second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus to give the Rangers a lot of offense at the up-the-middle skill positions. But it will be interesting to see how much offense they get at the corners from Berkman, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland. One player they won’t have to worry about is Adrian Beltre, a premium defender with an MVP-caliber bat at the hot corner.

3.0 Runs Allowed/Game — T-3rd in MLB

Wherever else the Rangers have problems, they still have an outstanding front three in their starting rotation. Second-year Japanese import Yu Darvish more than lived up to lofty first-year expectations, while Matt Harrison and Derek Holland give the Rangers a pair of quality lefties who are both just coming into their own. Harrison is currently on the DL with a lower back strain and should return soon. But what the team does after those three is open to question. Even after seeing relief ace Neftali Feliz blow out his elbow after a move to the rotation last year (likely costing him most of 2013), the Rangers are doing the same thing with Alexi Ogando. Like Feliz, Ogando is talented enough to merit the move, but the Rangers can’t afford to see him break down as well. Once injured veterans Colby Lewis and Joakim Soria join the staff later in the season, the team might have the kind of depth to contend.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 5 Preview: Rangers at Cubs


Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is a force offensively as well as with the glove. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Once the clear leaders of the AL West and back-to-back Junior Circuit champions, the Rangers now have plenty of company in their division. The Angels have loaded up through free agency two winters in a row, and the A’s shocked baseball by upsetting the Rangers for the division title last fall. But Texas will be able to dip into a perennially deep farm system thanks to one of the game’s premier scouting operations. They come to Chicago in an early season Interleague matchup due to the new 15-team alignment in each league.

rangers_at_cubsCubs batters will face a challenge getting the ball past the left side of the infield thanks to two of the game’s best glovemen: third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus. Both have great range, smooth hands and outstanding arms. Beltre, of course, adds in a .300-average, 30-homer stick that makes him an annual MVP candidate, while Andrus has improved offensively across the board in the last couple of seasons. Homegrown players stock the right side of the infield, with second baseman Ian Kinsler and first baseman Mitch Moreland. Regular DH (and former Astro and Cardinal) Lance Berkman could spot at first base or in the corner outfield this series.

With the departure of Josh Hamilton, there’s more pressure on left fielder David Murphy to double up on his breakout 2012 season, on right fielder Nelson Cruz to stave off further decline, and on center fielder Leonys Martin to grab hold of the position after being inked to a five-year deal out of Cuba.

The Cubs will see a few familiar faces behind the dish: former friend Geovany Soto and former foe A.J. Pierzynski. The latter joined the Rangers as a free agent after eight years on the South Side. Former Cub Jeff Baker also has a bench spot and may poke his head out against Travis Wood or other lefties.

The Cubs will miss right-hander Yu Darvish and the assortment of pitches that dazzled for 26 straight outs against the Astros two weeks ago. But they’ll still catch a homegrown trio with plenty of stuff: inconsistent left-hander Derek Holland, 2010 fifth-rounder Justin Grimm and reliever-turned-starter Alexi Ogando. Expect a lot of easy cheese on Thursday when Ogando takes on Jeff Samardzija. In the bullpen, the Rangers pair a couple of sophomore setup guys, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers, with veteran closer Joe Nathan.


Friday, April 5—LHP Derek Holland (0-1, 2.40) vs. LHP Travis Wood (1-0, 1.46)

Saturday, April 6—RHP Justin Grimm (0-0, 4.50) vs. RHP Carlos Villanueva (0-0, 0.64)

Sunday, April 7—RHP Alexi Ogando (2-0, 1.08) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75)

—Sean Ahmed

Series Preview: New York Mets

As the New York Mets made their way into town for a three-game set, word spread around the city that elite first base prospect Anthony Rizzo will get his first start in a Cubs uniform Tuesday night. Though expectations are high, Manager Dale Sveum stressed that he didn’t want the young slugger to try to put the team on his back.

For his first big league games, Rizzo will be facing a surprisingly tough Mets club. After losing two of three to the crosstown rival Yankees, Manager Terry Collins’ team sits at a competitive 39-34 and is holding onto second place in the NL East. Prior to the series opener, we preview a few of the key figures in the Mets’ success.

Hitters to Watch:

Lucas Duda
David Wright continues to crush the ball (.360/.455/.565, 41 RBI) and is a midseason front-runner for the NL MVP Award, but the campaign Duda is putting together is nothing to scoff at. His 11 home runs and 42 RBI lead the team, and he has provided solid protection for Wright in the middle of the order. The 26-year-old’s on-base percentage (.353) is roughly 80 points higher than his batting average, and he comes into Wrigley riding a seven-game hitting streak.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis
The 24-year-old center fielder has started 55 of 71 games, and his .281 batting average is third-best on the team. Nieuwenhuis has recorded seven home runs, 10 doubles and 25 RBI on the season. The lefty has spent most of the year at the top of the Mets’ order and has 39 runs scored, good for top 25 in the NL. But he does have a tendency to strike out. His 29 percent strikeout rate is fifth-highest in the league.

Pitchers to Watch:

Johan Santana
Santana, who will open the series against Cubs lefty Travis Wood, has been a major force since he earned a regular spot in the Twins’ rotation in 2002. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has bounced back in a big way after missing all of 2011 with shoulder issues. His 3.00 ERA is actually a notch below his career mark (3.10), and the Mets are 8-6 in games he’s started. He’s tied for 12th in the NL in strikeouts (84) and his 9.0 K/9 ranks 11th in the National League.

Bobby Parnell
Parnell might be the key to New York’s ‘pen. The hard-throwing righty owns a 3.19 ERA, largely because of his 2.32 BB/9. He also strikes out a respectable batter per inning. Despite blowing three save opportunities, the 27-year-old has 15 holds, second-best among NL relievers. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Parnell twice this series, especially if the Mets have late-inning leads.


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