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The Crosstown Cup can bring out the best in players. Exhibit A: Dioner Navarro. The free-swinging backup catcher was locked in Wednesday afternoon, ripping home runs in each of his three official plate appearances to lead the Cubs to a 9-3 victory over the White Sox.
Batting right-handed in the second and fourth innings, the 29-year-old switch-hitter took a pair of John Danks change-ups into the left-field stands. Then batting left-handed in the bottom of the seventh, he launched a Brian Omogrosso fastball down the right-field line onto Sheffield Avenue for his third homer of the day. Navarro finished 3-for-3 with three home runs, six RBI, four runs and a walk.
It was the first multi-homer game of Navarro’s career, and he became the first Cubs catcher to hit three homers in a game since George Mitterwald in 1974. After yesterday’s win and Tuesday’s rainout, the North Siders lead the Crosstown series 2-0. Travis Wood will take the mound for the Cubs Thursday afternoon, opposite Sox veteran Jake Peavy.
Shortstop Javier Baez blasted a walk-off, two-run homer in extra innings to lead the D-Cubs to victory. (Photo by Stephen Green)
Iowa, Tennessee and Daytona all collected a win Tuesday while Kane County was unable to recover in a rain-shortened outing. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (24-26)
Iowa defeated host Nashville, 6-2. The I-Cubs have won nine of their last 11 games.
- 1B Brent Lillibridge (.274) homered for the second consecutive game, going 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI (6).
- 3B Edwin Maysonet (.270) hit his fourth home run in his last seven games and tallied three RBI (20).
- SS Donnie Murphy (.275) went 2-for-4 with a double (4) and a run scored.
- LHP Chris Rusin recorded his longest outing of the season, throwing 97 pitches in eight innings.
Tennessee Smokies (27-23)
Tennessee scored a run in three consecutive innings and held on to defeat first-place Birmingham, 3-2.
- 3B Christian Villanueva (.254) went 2-for-4 with a double (16), a triple (1) and a run scored.
- DH Arismendy Alcantara (.270) hit a game-tying, solo home run in the fourth inning, finishing 1-for-4.
- RHP Kyle Hendricks recorded his fourth consecutive quality start, finishing May with a 4-1 record and a 1.96 ERA (7 ER/32.1 IP).
- RHP Frank Batista (1.1 IP, H) converted the save, improving to a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities.
Daytona Cubs (25-24)
Javier Baez blasted a walk-off, two-run homer in the 11th inning, lifting Daytona to a 6-4 victory over visiting Tampa.
- SS Javier Baez (.268) finished 2-for-6 with the two-run homer.
- LF John Andreoli (.312) extended his hitting streak to seven games (.424/14-for-33), going 2-for-6 with a run.
- 3B Ben Carhart (.267) went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.
- LHP Frank Del Valle (2 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, K) earned the win in relief, improving to 3-0.
Kane County Cougars (24-26)
Kane County suffered a 7-5 setback at Quad Cities in a rain-shortened, six-inning affair.
- DH Dan Vogelbach (.292) homered for the second consecutive game, going 1-for-3 with a run and three RBI (35).
- CF Oliver Zapata (.273) extended his hitting streak to 10 games (.359/14-for-39), going 2-for-3 with two runs.
- LF Pin-Chieh Chen (.240) went 1-for-3 with a triple (2) and two RBI (15).
- RHP Lendy Castillo (2 IP, H, BB, 2 K) threw two scoreless innings of relief, his second consecutive scoreless outing.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs kick off a five-game homestand Wednesday, with the White Sox and Diamondbacks coming to town. If you’re headed to Wrigley Field over the next week, here’s your first pitch and seventh-inning stretch lineup:
Wednesday – 5/29
Denis Savard (former Chicago Blackhawks star)
Thursday – 5/30
Billy Williams (Cubs Hall of Famer)
Friday – 5/31
Bryce Drew (Valparaiso basketball head coach, former Bulls player)
Saturday – 6/1
Bob Brenly (former Cubs broadcaster)
Sunday – 6/2
Ryan O’Reilly (Bricks and Ivy auction winner)
The Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the White Sox Tuesday, before the game was postponed due to rain. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
A home-and-home series—in baseball? Welcome to the crazy scheduling world of year-round Interleague Play. Though the South Siders have surprised analysts with their ability to outperform forecasts, they didn’t make any major additions to a roster that lost a late-season lead to the Tigers in the AL Central last year. While the Indians and Royals made big moves to catch Detroit, newly minted Sox GM Rick Hahn had to settle for signing super-utilityman Jeff Keppinger and set-up reliever Matt Lindstrom. Losing longtime catcher A.J. Pierzynski to free agency amplifies concerns about the aging lineup’s ability to score runs, and power lefty John Danks missed the opening weeks of the season as he continued to recover from left shoulder surgery. The Sox may again upset expectations and finish above .500—they’re currently one game below—but they haven’t won 90 games since 2006. The last time the Cubs won 90 was in 2008.
HITTING: 3.6 RS/G, 26th in MLB
Losing Pierzynski was a surprise, but so were his 27 home runs last year. The Sox couldn’t have expected that to happen again. Instead, this lineup will rely on its power trio of Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. It remains to be seen if Dayan Viciedo will make it a core four. If the team hopes to contend, Dunn will need to continue his rebound from 2011, arguably the worst year ever for a designated hitter (.569 OPS). So far, he’s off to a typically Dunn-like start. His power numbers are strong (12 home runs, 27 RBI), but he’s hitting just .156 with 66 strikeouts. The Sox also need leadoff man Alejandro De Aza to repeat his breakthrough performance from 2012. The good news is Rios got off to a hot start, leading the team in almost every statistical category. Still, the Sox will be better off if some of his teammates start challenging his numbers sometime soon.
PITCHING: 4.0 RA/G, 9th in MLB
Much of how well the 2013 season works out on the South Side rests on the Sox’s frontline pair of power lefties. Chris Sale is off to a good start (especially with Welington Castillo’s two-run blast from Tuesday wiped off the stat sheet) and hopes to follow up on his near Cy Young-worthy 2012 campaign, while today’s starter Danks is trying to bounce back from shoulder surgery. Thursday’s starter Jake Peavy has lived up to the veteran ace label in his first starts of 2013, posting a 6-2 record with a 2.97 ERA, but Gavin Floyd has already been lost for the year with an elbow injury. The good news for the Sox is the bullpen looks like a source of strength. Closer Addison Reed seems to have overcome last year’s wildness, and Jesse Crain is off to a fast start.
(Photo by Jason Wise)
It has been a good week for Cubs’ 2012 first-round draft pick Albert Almora. After missing the early portion of the year with a broken hamate bone in his hand, Almora made his 2013 debut for the Class-A Kane County Cougars on May 22 and got off to such a fast start he was named the Midwest League Player of the Week.
In 26 at-bats, the 19-year-old outfielder hit .538 with five doubles, 14 hits, two walks and only two strikeouts. He logged four multihit efforts in his first seven games.
The Cubs made Almora the sixth overall selection in the 2012 draft. He spent the second half of last season with the Arizona rookie team and Short-Season Boise, where he combined to hit .321/.331/.464 with 12 doubles and two home runs in 140 at-bats.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
This offseason, ESPN Insider’s Keith Law was high on the Cubs’ organizational overhaul. The well-respected talent evaluator ranked the North Siders the No. 5 farm system in his annual offseason rankings—up from No. 20 the previous season—and put four farmhands in his top 100 prospects list. Three of those four players were acquired by the club since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over after the 2011 season.
Each May, Law goes back and updates his top 25 prospect rankings. While it’s worth noting a few of his top players have already graduated the list by moving up to the majors, Cubs prospect Jorge Soler made a big jump—21 spots to No. 21—on Law’s list. Below is what he said about the Cuban outfielder:
21. Jorge Soler, OF | Chicago Cubs (age 21)
Current level: High Class A (Daytona)
Preseason ranking: 42
The power is already showing up thanks to Soler’s tremendous bat speed, and he’s drawn more walks (18 in 173 PAs) than I would have guessed given how long he had gone without facing live pitching before last summer. He’s been only fair in right field and his arm has looked average, both disappointments relative to what I saw from him last year.
Brian Schlitter made his first appearance for the I-Cubs Sunday after starting the season with Tennessee. (Photo by Stephen Green)
While Iowa’s five-game winning streak was snapped after an early setback Monday, Tennessee and Kane County both rallied late for comeback victories. Daytona had the day off but will be back on the field tonight against visiting Tampa. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:
Iowa Cubs (23-26)
Iowa was victimized by a four-run, third inning in a 4-3 loss to visiting Oklahoma City. The loss snapped Iowa’s five-game winning streak.
- RF Brian Bogusevic (.369) reached base three times, going 1-for-2 with two walks, a double (13) and two runs scored.
- 1B Brent Lillibridge (.264) blasted his third home run of the season, a fifth-inning solo shot.
- LF Darnell McDonald (.202) went 0-for-1 with two walks, a stolen base (5) and a RBI (12).
- RHP Brian Schlitter (2 IP, 2 H, 3 K) made his first appearance for Iowa after allowing only two earned runs in 21.2 innings for Double-A Tennessee to begin the season.
Tennessee Smokies (26-23)
Tennessee rallied for a run in the seventh inning and two in the eighth to defeat Huntsville, 8-6, in the final game of a five-game series.
- 2B Ronald Torreyes (.236) snapped a five-game hitless skid, going 2-for-5 with a home run, a run scored and three RBI (14).
- LF Ty Wright (.247) went 2-for-4 with a double (7) and two runs scored.
- C Chad Noble (.286) collected his first hits of the season with Tennessee after beginning the season at Daytona. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double (1) and a run scored.
- RHP Tony Zych (2 IP, H, K) tossed two scoreless innings, earning the win in relief.
Kane County Cougars (24-25)
Kane County tallied five runs in the eighth inning, surging past visiting Beloit, 8-4. The Cougars have won four of their last five games.
- DH Dan Vogelbach (.292) went 3-for-5 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBI (32).
- RF-CF Oliver Zapata (.265) extended his hitting streak to nine games (.333/12-for-36), going 2-for-4 with a run scored.
- LF Pin-Chieh Chen (.238) went 1-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and two RBI (13).
- RHP Steve Perakslis (3 IP, H, R, BB, 3 K) earned his first victory of the season, allowing no earned runs in three innings of relief.
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Cubs claimed right-hander Alex Burnett off waivers from the Orioles Monday afternoon.
The 25-year-old reliever had his finest season last year, going 4-4 with a 3.52 ERA and 10 holds in 67 relief appearances for the Twins. Prior to the All-Star break he had a 2.49 ERA, fourth among AL relievers. During the spring, the former 12th round pick of the 2005 draft was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays before being designated for assignment and signing on with Baltimore on April 12.
Burnett is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings in Triple-A this season. He is currently on the Cubs’ 25-man roster.
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Jeff Samardzija brought his “A” game to the South Side in a 7-0 win against the White Sox Monday night. In the series opener, the Cubs’ ace pitched a two-hitter, earning the 28-year-old his first career shutout. He threw 108 pitches, allowing only two hits—both singles—while fanning eight and walking two.
Though last night’s victory is only the third win for the second-year starter, Samardzija has pitched well all season, owning a 2.85 ERA through 11 starts. The Shark’s Memorial Day win makes him the first Cubs pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout game in almost two years; the last North Sider to do so was Randy Wells on August 29, 2011. The Cubs play three more games against their intracity rivals before either team can claim bragging rights for capturing the Crosstown Classic.
The Cubs will see Reds ace Johnny Cueto on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
The Cubs go from pitcher’s environment to hitter’s paradise as they head to Cincinnati for a three-game set. GM Walt Jocketty finally addressed an area this offseason that has plagued the Reds for years: the leadoff spot. And, boy, did he ever. Center fielder Shin-Soo Choo has put up a monstrous .300/.449/.535 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line with nine home runs in 45 games. That’s a far cry from the sub-.300 on-base percentage days of Corey Patterson, Willy Taveras and Drew Stubbs—even if Choo is better suited to a corner outfield spot. He is exactly the type of player the Reds need as they look to capture their third division title in four years.
HITTING 4.8 RS/G, 2nd in NL
It’s true that only Choo and other-worldly first baseman Joey Votto get on base with any consistency, but it’s been at such a great rate (roughly 47 percent of plate appearances combined) it’s allowed the team’s power to have maximum effect. Votto, of course, supplies plenty of pop, but so do second baseman Brandon Phillips, third baseman Todd Frazier and right fielder Jay Bruce—though impressively, it’s Choo who leads the team in home runs. On the defensive end, young shortstop Zack Cozart pairs up with Phillips to form one of the game’s best double-play tandems. And Votto has worked hard to become a good fielder at first. In the end, this is a lineup that does it all besides steal bases. It will be vital for Cubs pitchers to limit baserunners in order to mitigate any damage from home runs in Great American Ball Park.
PITCHING 3.6 RA/G, 5th in NL
The lineup gets the plaudits, but the pitching at least deserves a, “You’re not looking so bad yourself.” Every starting pitcher has an ERA below 3.50, from veteran Bronson Arroyo—who throws tonight—to the other four arms (all ages 27 and below). Some of the across-the-board improvements in the last few years could be credited to the defense, but there’s more to it than that. The Cubs will also see ace Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey this weekend. Owner of a corkscrew windup and one of the game’s most deceptive change-ups, Cueto has continually refined his command to become a truly outstanding starting pitcher. The improved control has paid off in reduced walks and home runs, though he didn’t look his finest in last week’s return from oblique and back issues. Interestingly, he’s even spoken about reducing the twist in his motion if it would prevent future injuries. Once seen as a disappointment after being heralded as a top prospect, Bailey is another member of the pitching staff who has seen a downward trend in his walks—and he not only earned a no-hitter last year but also posted a career-best ERA. Flame-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman is the closer, but rookie J.J. Hoover has also picked up a save or two.